Gritty Boro Grind Out 'Historic' Draw
AFTER just two wins in 40 years and half a century since a clean sheet at Forest, I think Boro can claim the goalless draw at the City Ground as a mighty moral victory.
Boro - and another superb midweek travelling support of 1,600 in a third away game in a week- may not have had the jubilation and vindication of a victory at that most barren of bogey grounds but it was a massive and deserved point after a gutsy display.
Of course, some naive and wild eyed optimists may see anything that falls short of out-right victory as a bit of a disappointment that slips back from the incrementally raised standards of the past few weeks.
Some had built themselves up for victory and had already factored in the points boost of a Magnificent Seven triumph. After six wins on the bounce in all competitions, after six triumphs on their travels, after beating Sunderland and Brighton and then leaders Blackburn on their own turf there may have been an expectation that Boro would win and that anything less would have been a set-back.
But most dyed in the wool, battle scarred campaigners will know that Boro NEVER get anything at the City Ground so even a single point represents a quantum leap forward.
So historically adjusted, a draw there can be marked down as a famous victory.
Boro have won just twice at the City Ground in 40 years: they edged a narrow 2-1 triumph in March 1999 when Brian Deane got a late winner in a close fought 2-1 triumph for Bryan Robson's side and before that there was a 3-1 win in April 1973 with Alan Foggan scoring two and John Hickton sealing a 3-1 victory as Stan Anderson's final season fizzled out.
And Boro have kept only two clean sheets at Forest in just over a century, the last one coming in November 1956 when Brian Clough rattled in a hat-trick in an emphatic 4-0 win. Before that you are looking before World War One when every team wore baggy shorts and looked like they were doing Movember. You can see the highlights of Boro's 1-0 win on Pathe News.
And that is not one of those quirky stats that is thrown up because you rarely play a team because they spend most of their time in a far flung lower league. This is Forest: we have played them countless times in leagues and cups and the obligatory dashing Autumnal defeat there is one of the building blocks of every season.
That fixture was the first defeat (and first away reverse in the league) last season and the first crack in what had been a superb start for instance.
So a lot of hard-bitten cynics will now start to believe: if this Boro can come back from Forest with such a prize then who knows what is possible?
And, let's be honest, it was a good point by a team finishing the last league of a gruelling tour of three tough away games in a week.
Boro have spent much of that long week in hotels or on coaches and have had little down-time to prepare tactically for the nuances of each of their opponents' styles.
So to come out of the other end of that mini-tour with four hard-earned points, in second place in the table and in the last eight of the League Cup is not a bad return at all.
Especially as in the last two games Boro have been far from at their best.
At Charlton they were sticky and stuttering for the first hour before getting a vital goal and taking control then exploiting the space offered as their hosts chased the game.
That 4-1 was a result that looked far more comfortable on the page than it ever did on the pitch.
And at Forest, a jaded looking Boro that lacked the fluency of a few weeks ago were forced to labour throughout a very physical game for the draw.
On balance Forest had more of the incisive play, the better of the sporadic chances and when Billy Sharp broke clear through into the box to rattle the post early in the second half, they missed the moment to apply the weight of history.
But Boro dug deep in what was a very scrappy game to keep them at bay.
The defence was switched about again with Seb Hines - who had barely trained all week - slotting in for Jonathan Woodgate and it was change up top too as ring rusty Lukas Jutkiewicz returned in place of Emmanuel Ledesma.
Even the off-colour gaffer was only in the dug-out after passing a late fitness test.
But despite the changes, enforced and rotational, and despite the fatigue from a tough run of eight games in 21 days, they put in a Trojan collective display of grit and industry.
The defence stayed strong and switched on to shackle Sharp and Simon Fox who was a livewire in the first half with some surging runs down the right flank to put in some testing crosses.
And the midfield may not have been as creative as usual but they were a superb unit deployed in a spoiling capacity: chasing, closing down, tackling, blocking and making it very difficult to function.
Grant Leadbitter was a metronomic presence, swinging from side to side measuring out the ferocious tempo of the engine room while Nicky Bailey carried out a dirty but efficient ruthless hunter-killer role just behind him.
And the physical presence and non-stop workrate of Faris Haroun and Josh McEachran contributed to chopping down Forest's ambitions.
And Boro were brave. Haroun and Bailey both made superb last ditch blocking tackles while McEachran threw himself full length in a furious scramble to block a goalbound piledriver with his ribs.
At times it was scrappy, shapeless and untidy. It was, as the cliche has it, not one for the purists. But it was a determined display that showed a vital part of the skill set needed for a winning team.
They were far from their best but they got a point on the road from a tough team.
And make no mistake, this was a point gained. And a big point from a well resourced side with a lot of firepower and who could yet force their way into the promotion shake-up.
And it was big point that kept the run going Boro are starting to show the kind of consistency, belief, steel and street-fighting staying power to get out of this league.
And it was a big point on another crazy night in the Championship when Cardiff cracked at Charlton and Crystal Palace blasted to the front.
Given how the cut-throat promotion race is shaping up it was a vital small step.
That is now eight games unbeaten in all competitions and seven in the Championship.
A pleasing momentum is now starting to build.
Now the key is to recover, recharge and get ready to carry that into the next game.
Boro play on Friday next against Sheffield Wednesday at the Riverside and they can go top of the table.
That may not count for much in November but it would be great to see and fantastic reward for the effort this Boro team have put in over the past six weeks.
With a great value ticket offer - £12 for adults and £7 for kids - Boro are hoping for a bumper crowd. Over 17,500 have been sold already. It is heading to be the biggest crowd of the season so far for what may shape up as a significant moment.
Get yourself there.