Nottingham Forest fell to their first defeat in eight games on Wednesday night, losing 2-1 to Middlesbrough at the City Ground.
Goals from Britt Assombalonga and George Saville secured a vital away win for Boro, with 10-man Forest left frustrated despite Loic Mbe Soh’s late consolation.
Forest were the ones who benefited from a positive start at the weekend. Sammy Ameobi’s early goal against Millwall gave them a platform to build on. Wednesday night was different, however.
It was Boro who were to cause damage early on. Marcus Tavernier found himself in on goal after getting in behind Yuri Ribeiro down the left-hand side, forcing Brice Samba into action as he drove a shot into his midriff. George Saville the next to threaten, with a long-range effort being deflected wide for a corner.
Neil Warnock was a frustrated man on 13 minutes as his midfielder, Sam Morsy, brought down the lively Alex Mighten in the middle of the park after a slick nutmeg. A yellow card for the Egyptian international’s troubles, but those frustrations were to disappear moments later.
A low cross was drilled in from the right by Jonny Howson, and there was Britt Assombalonga to sweep home from close-range and open the scoring for the visitors.
Joe Worrall was among those left helpless, with the defender appealing for offside after helplessly watching his former teammate get in front of him, beat the trap and fire low beyond Brice Samba. 1-0 to Boro. A fifth goal of the season for the man who Boro paid Forest £15million for back in 2017.
Down the other end, Sammy Ameobi – looking to make a similar impact to the one he made at the weekend – drove forward with power and purpose before slipping in Lewis Grabban. The latter’s cross was fizzed across the face of the goal, but no takers as Cafu watched the ball skid out for a goal kick..
Forest will have been looking to respond following that early lapse in concentration leading to Boro’s opener, but Assombalonga could, and probably should have doubled his and his side’s tally shortly before the half-hour mark.
A dangerous free-kick was delivered into the box, with Assombalonga latching onto it and heading towards goal. His effort could only hit the inside of the post from point-blank range, before hitting Samba in the face and going out for a corner. A major let-off for Forest, who were certainly skating on thin ice.
Forest were looking frightened whenever were attacking the final third, particularly from set-pieces. The resulting corner was drilled in at the near post, and a deft touch from George Saville nearly cut Samba out.
The half-time whistle eventually blew, with Hughton undoubtedly left irritated by his side’s failure to assert their dominance at either end of the pitch. Warnock, meanwhile, hoping for more of the same in the second half.
Hughton – clearly looking to add more attacking impetus in the final third – brought on Lyle Taylor at half-time, partnering Lewis Grabban in attack and replacing Samba Sow who had been booked earlier on.
But things were to go from bad to worse for Forest, as Boro doubled their lead shortly after the interval.
Assombalonga showed his physicality to hold off his man, feeding Marcus Tavenier who split the defence and slid the ball through to George Saville. The midfielder didn’t crumble under the pressure, bearing down on goal and coolly slotting beyond Samba. 2-0, and a mountain climb for Forest.
Forest looked to climb that mountain, bringing on further firepower with Anthony Knockaert replacing Mighten on 54 minutes. They came close on the hour mark, with Ameobi pouncing onto a loose ball and firing an effort wide from a corner.
But Boro were the side dominating in every area of the pitch. Jonny Howson helping them doing so by covering every blade of grass, and Marcus Tavernier and Duncan Watmore proving to be tricky customers down the flanks.
Watmore was withdrawn on 65 minutes, being replaced by Marvin Johnson. Half a minute later, Marc Bola shaded the crossbar with a fierce long-range attempt after driving forward from a left-back position.
Chances were few and far between as the game entered its latter stages. Boro managing the game impressively and holding onto their lead well, with Forest failing to unlock their opponents’ resolute backline.
More desperate changes were made by Hughton. Joe Lolley replacing Saturday’s hero Ameobi, in a bid to add even a glimpse of inspiration going forward.
Boro continued to push forward, though. Samba equal to Morsy’s long-range effort, with Johnson firing a powerful effort across the face of goal and wide of the far post.
Ryan Yates was the next to be replaced. The midfielder hobbling off with an ankle problem, and natural centre-half Loic Mbe Soh coming on in the 81st minute, operating as a central midfielder.
Six minutes were to be added on at the end of the half, with Boro limiting Forest to zero attempts on goal throughout, very much typifying a toothless display from the hosts.
Their first attempt on target did arrive in stoppage time, and it was a meaningful one.
Joe Lolley delivered a cross in from the left, and there was Mbe Soh to rise highest and power a header past Marcus Bettinelli.
What looked to be a quiet end to the game, then, turned into an entertaining affair. There was time for even further drama late on, as Boro, trying to keep the ball in the corner, drew a foul and annoyed their opposition. Yuri Ribeiro, losing his cool after fouling Assombalonga, seemingly put his head into the latter, before being shown a straight red card.
A frustrating night made even more frustrating for Forest, as the full-time whistle blew. A big win for Boro, and a rare one on the road for Warnock’s side.
A frustrating evening for Forest however, falling to their first defeat in eight games in all competitions, and falling way below their high standards of late.