Nottingham Forest’s unbeaten run came to an end in disappointing fashion on Wednesday night, with the Reds losing 2-1 to Middlesbrough at the City Ground.
Forest came into this one embarking on an unbeaten run of seven games in all competitions, showing signs of a team who were really starting to turn a corner under Chris Hughton’s tutelage.
But they were brought back down to earth on Wednesday evening, with Neil Warnock’s side doing a number on their opposition.
Former Forest man Britt Assombalonga sent Boro on their way to a big away win. The striker pounced onto Jonny Howson’s low cross from the right, sweeping past Brice Samba on 14 minutes.
Assombalonga played a key part in the second goal shortly after the half-time interval, too. He displayed strong hold-up play to lay the ball off to Marcus Tavernier, who played in George Saville one-on-one. No mistake from the midfielder, as he coolly slotted beyond Samba.
Forest did find a late consolation through Loic Mbe Soh in stoppage time, but they failed to capitalise on that momentum. Instead, Yuri Ribeiro was shown a red card for putting his head into Assombalonga’s face, as tempers flared late on.
Here, then, we dissect the action and discuss three things we clearly learnt about Forest in their 2-1 defeat to Middlesbrough.
Discipline an issue
Forest simply were not at the races on Wednesday night. They were well below their usual high standards of late, and allowed Boro to dominate in every area of the pitch.
They looked fragile defensively, typified when their defensive line were too slow to step forward in an attempt to play Assombalonga offside for the first goal. The striker scoring one of the easiest goals he’ll ever have, firing low and beyond Samba from close-range.
Their defence was split open for Boro’s second goal, too, as Saville raced through on goal and calmly slotted past Samba.
It is important, then, that when you do manage to find that one goal back from nowhere, you keep level-headed and composed in an attempt to go and find an unlikely, undeserved winner.
Forest showed anything but composure. Anthony Knockaert was shown a yellow card for purposely handling the ball after losing possession, before seemingly throwing the ball at an opposition player straight after.
Then, of course, there was Yuri Ribeiro who lost his cool in the corner, putting his head into Britt Assombalonga’s face. Regardless of the way the former Forest striker reacted, you cannot afford to give the referee the opportunity to make a decision.
Chris Hughton was unhappy about his players’ lack of discipline post-match, criticising Ribeiro and Lyle Taylor, who was shown a needless yellow card for dissent earlier on in the game.
A three-game ban for Ribeiro, and a punishment he can’t really complain about.
More to come from Mbe Soh?
In the end, Mbe Soh’s contribution was minimal given the final outcome of the game, but it would have been a positive night for the teenager as he scored his first goal for the club.
Mbe Soh has had to bide his time and wait patiently for an opportunity since joining from PSG in the summer, making only five appearances this term.
On Wednesday, we saw the natural centre-half replace Ryan Yates in midfield, after the latter hobbled off with a calf injury late on.
Mbe Soh has played in this position before whilst at PSG, and with Harry Arter and Jack Colback also missing, could we see the Frenchman start in midfield against Swansea City this weekend?
You don’t come through the ranks at PSG and earn a couple of first-team appearances if you aren’t comfortable on the ball, and someone who can start attacks from a deep-lying position could be beneficial for Forest and for Hughton.
Not out of the woods just yet
You could forgive Forest fans for dreaming of a mid-table finish in recent weeks, no matter how drab and depressing that may sound.
Results and performances had improved a lot, and it looked as if Hughton’s side were only heading in one direction.
But despite that unbeaten run, Forest find themselves still only five points clear of the relegation zone, with 22nd-placed Rotherham United having three games in hand.
Of course, the Millers have to be at their best if they are to win those games, and it would be a big ask for them to do so, but Forest are still in a precarious position.
There is no reason for all that hard work in recent weeks to be forgotten and rubbished, but there is a another lesson to be learnt here. You cannot afford to take your foot off the gas at any given moment.