Football Features

Pressure mounts on Woodgate: The winners & losers as Forest held by Middlesbrough

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:05, 2 March 2020

Middlesbrough’s hopes of staying in the Championship took another hit as they drew 2-2 with Nottingham Forest.

Forest took the lead just before the half-hour mark through Ryan Yates but Middlesbrough had turned the game on its head by half-time thanks to goals from Rudy Gestede and Lewis Wing.

Middlesbrough looked to be holding on to a vital win until Lewis Grabban struck late on to earn a point.

Winner: Rudy Gestede

Middlesbrough were the lowest scorers in the Championship going in Monday night’s game, having scored 34 goals in 35 games so fans may not have been optimistic about adding to that tally. To make things worse, they were without the injured Ashley Fletcher and Britt Assombalonga, who is ill, leaving third-choice striker Rudy Gestede to lead the line.

The 31-year-old hasn’t had the best season so far, being on the periphery a lot and starting just his third game of the Championship campaign against Forest. His previous 16 appearances, 14 had come from the bench, bringing 329 minutes and just one goal.

But Forest are his favourite opponents and Gestede caused them problems once again. With Boro going a goal down, some might have expected their heads to drop, but they fought and Gestede was on hand to draw them level.

Following a ball into the box, headed across goal by Harold Moukoudi, Gestede rose highest at the far post – out-jumping Joe Worrall – to head past Brice Samba. It was his eighth goal in 10 appearances against Forest and gave the forward confidence in fighting against the opposition defenders.

Loser: Jonathan Woodgate

Jonathan Woodgate was under a lot of pressure going into this game, with a large section of Middlesbrough’s fans calling for his head, as they were winless since New Year’s Day.

Some felt his affiliation with the club, playing six years at the Riverside across two spells, was the only reason Woodgate remained in charge despite sitting in the relegation zone. He had been backed by the board earlier on Monday morning, with the club asking for fans to have some patience in what would be a longer build and Woodgate looked to be onto a massive win.

But they were unable to hold onto their lead, allowing Forest too much time on the ball after going ahead, trusting their defence to win out. However, as the game ticked closer to the end, Forest’s attacking became relentless and Lewis Grabban was on hand to make the most of a lapse in concentration, stealing a point for his side.

Three seasons ago Middlesbrough were in the Premier League but now their place in the Championship looks in doubt, and for fans Woodgate will take the brunt of the blame.

Winner: Lewis Grabban

Lewis Grabban went into Monday’s game on a terrible run of form. Forest’s top scorer had gone six league games without a goal, his worst run since a seven-match streak between April and August 2019.

He also has a fairly poor record against Middlesbrough, with just one goal in his first 11 Championship appearances against the club and it looked like continuing.

Grabban was anonymous for large parts of the game and you could have been forgiven for forgetting he was on the pitch. But when Forest needed him most, Grabban was there to drag them level with a neat goal.

Keeping alert following a bouncing ball back into the box, Grabban saw his chance to challenge Pears. Holding off the goalkeeper, with his back towards goal, Grabban cleverly shielded the ball and got the tiniest of touches with his toes to divert it towards the goal and into the back of the net for his 17th strike of the season.

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Loser: Aynsley Pears

When Ryan Yates opened the scoring for Forest, as good as the first-time finish was, questions had to be asked of Aysnley Pears. The goalkeeper looked to have been beaten a bit too easily from the effort outside the box, letting it run across the floor and into the bottom corner.

Pears appeared to have redeemed himself, remaining a strong presence in the Middlesbrough goal as well as playing a massive role in his side taking the lead – though the record books will not remember his contribution.

Despite equalising, Boro remained under fire from Forest and the visitors launched a ball into the box just before half-time. Pears was confident and caught the cross but rather than trying to calm things down as other goalkeepers might have in the situation, he looked immediately up the pitch.

The goalkeeper launched a long throw out to Hayden Coulson who had space to run into, getting closer to the box before finding Lewis Wing, who scored. There were 11 seconds between Pears catching the ball and Wing finding the net, showing just how vital the goalkeeper’s contribution was.

But, once again, his goalkeeping was called into question as he barely challenged Grabban when the striker neatly finished – using his strength to lawfully keep Pears out.

Winner: Stoke City

With just over 10 minutes remaining of this game, Stoke were in the relegation zone ahead of a tough run of fixtures which includes hosting Middlesbrough.

Michael O’Neill’s side haven’t been good this season and have spent their time bottom of the table. Moving further away from the drop just a week ago with a 2-0 win over Cardiff, Stoke followed that up with consecutive draws, bringing them closer to the relegation zone.

But, thanks to Lewis Grabban, Stoke’s Championship survival hopes remain in their own hands and the relegation race looks exciting with no team able to pull away from the drop zone.

Loser: Forest’s defence

Nottingham Forest may have earned a point from this game and were unfortunate not to win given the pressure they put on late in the match, but that cannot hide their defensive weakness.

Against Middlesbrough on Monday night, Forest were far too open at the back. Focusing too much on attacking, when Middlesbrough broke, Forest’s players did not try hard enough to keep up. It was exposed for Wing’s goal as Middlesbrough countered with very little resistance, bearing down on Brice Samba who did not have much chance of keeping the ball out.

Forest didn’t learn from their mistakes either as Middlesbrough continued to look dangerous on the attack and a team with more confidence going forward would have punished Sabri Lamouchi’s side.

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