Middlesbrough 1 Nottingham Forest 1
Middlesbrough 1 Nottingham Forest 1 JEREMY Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May were at the Riverside on Saturday, promoting their automotive art exhibition in Middlesbrough's MIMA gallery. Unfortunately, it felt as though they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Never mind Top Gear, after three games without a victory since Gordon Strachan's appointment as manager last month, merely getting into Second Gear would represent progress for the town's football team at the moment. We know we don't have a lot of time if we want to achieve our goals, admitted defender Emanuel Pogatetz, whose return from a cheekbone injury represented one of the few positives to emerge from an otherwise dispiriting draw with Nottingham Forest. We have to start picking up three points now. We've slipped down into mid-table and, although it's still close, the gap is getting a little big bigger every week. We have to close it up. We have to pick up a lot more points than we have been over the next few games if we want the chance to get promotion this year. It is far too early to start writing off the Teessiders' prospects of promotion, but it is nevertheless alarming to note that they have only been moving in one direction in the last few weeks. Middlesbrough were one point off the automatic promotion places when Steve Gibson sacked Gareth Southgate last month today, the gap has increased to eight, and it will go up again to nine if Newcastle avoid defeat at Preston this evening. It will clearly take time for Strachan to implement the changes he deems necessary, but with the race for the Championship play-off places looking more competitive than ever this season, the ongoing period of transition cannot last forever. Boro face four of their promotion rivals in their next five matches QPR, Blackpool, Cardiff and Newcastle and if their current malaise is not addressed before Christmas, the damage to their league position could prove terminal in terms of ruling out a push for the Premier League in the second half of the season. While Strachan at least claimed his first point as Middlesbrough manager at the weekend, he continues to wait for his maiden victory, and while defeats against Plymouth and Crystal Palace were hardly the ideal way to start his reign, Saturday's draw was arguably the most disappointing of the three matches. Buoyed by Leroy Lita's fifth-minute opener the striker bundled the ball home from close range after Forest goalkeeper Lee Camp had saved from Julio Arca Boro should have seized the initiative and built a head of steam. Instead, they were on the back foot for more than an hour before Forest substitute Robert Earnshaw scored a deserved equaliser with a deftly floated free-kick. Two problems were particularly apparent, and while they undoubtedly existed under Southgate, they appear to have become even more pronounced under Strachan. An inability to carve out chances is a major concern, and Boro failed to record a single shot on target after Lita broke the deadlock early on. Strachan has signed two loan strikers this month Marcus Bent and Dave Kitson but neither looked like scoring at the weekend, with the supply line from a midfield featuring Arca in a right-wing position all but non-existent. If Adam Johnson fails to set anything up at the moment, and Championship defences are becoming wise to his dribbling ability, Boro are a largely impotent force. They are also a nervous and fragile outfit, and as the second half of Saturday's game wore on, the anxiety levels within the home side's ranks rose alarmingly. Passes went astray, clearances were hurried rather than composed, and a Nottingham Forest equaliser became all but inevitable. Confidence is a difficult thing to engender, but Strachan's biggest task ahead of next weekend's game at Peterborough will be to convince his players that they are capable of converting a winning position into a positive result. At the moment, and especially at home, they appear to believe that a disaster is just around the corner. We were panicky and maybe that's what happens when you don't have a good home record, conceded Strachan. It started to set in near the middle of the second half. Our retention of the ball was poor when we got it back, we rushed things and we didn't keep possession in the final third. If you're doing all those things, you'll struggle. We need to address that, and we need to find a formula or a formation that makes us more of a goal threat. That's for sure. It's not happening at the moment, and I can't really put my finger on why, but it's something we have to get right. With Kitson failing to make an impact on his debut, and Lita feeding off scraps throughout, Boro's lack of a goal threat stood in marked contrast to the problems posed by a lively Forest side who have now gone nine games without defeat. Brad Jones made three excellent saves either side of the interval the pick was a wonderful fingertip effort to turn Joe Garner's shot around the post and while he was unable to get anywhere near Earnshaw's set-piece, Boro would have suffered a third successive defeat had it not been for their goalkeeper's agility. Brad's doing really well, said Pogatetz. We always knew he had great talent, but this year he is showing it because he has been getting opportunities to play. He did really well for us again with a couple of outstanding saves, and I think we're all pleased we have Brad in goal. The challenge now is for Jones' team-mates to match his level of performance. The Top Gear art exhibition runs at MIMA until Sunday. By that stage, Strachan will hope Middlesbrough have started motoring up the Championship table too. Matchfacts Goals: 1-0: Lita (5, prodded home rebound from close range after Camp saved Arca's shot) 1-1: Earnshaw (73, curled 20-yard free-kick into left-hand corner after Wheater handball) Bookings: McKenna (12, foul), Williams (69, foul), Cohen (78, foul) Referee: Lee Probert (Swindon) Controlled the game effectively and kept his bookings to a minimum 6 Attendance: 22,710 Entertainment: MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): 8 JONES: Produced three excellent saves either side of the interval to maintain Boro's advantage; 6 Williams: Looked comfortable back in defence and could be the answer to Boro's right-back problem 6 St Ledger: Bounced back from his international disappointment with a solid enough showing 6 Wheater: Won most things against Adebola in the air, but isn't quite the player he was two seasons ago 6 Pogatetz: Showed commendable bravery to continue despite injuring his cheek once again; 5 Arca: His shot led to the goal, but he didn't look particularly comfortable at right midfield 5 O'Neil: Didn't have much of an impact from central midfield despite plenty of possession 6 Osbourne: Worked hard enough, but couldn't produce a telling through ball for his strikers 5 Johnson: Flickered into life sporadically, but tried to do too much when he was on the ball; 6 Lita: Took his goal well and was willing to go looking for the ball when the service dried up 4 Kitson: A disappointing debut in which he never looked like getting on the scoresheet Subs: Bent (for Kitson, 57mins): Suffered from a lack of service and failed to force Camp into a save 5 Digard (for Arca, 66mins): Beefed up the midfield, but couldn't wrest back the initiative 5 Franks (for Lita, 76mins) (not used): Coyne (gk), Taylor, McMahon, Yeates. NOTTM FOREST (4-4-2): Camp 6; Gunter 6, Morgan 7, Wilson 6, Cohen 6; Garner 6 (McCleary 65mins, 6), McKenna 6, Moussi 6, ANDERSON 8; Adebola 5 (Blackstock 80mins), McGoldrick 6 (Earnshaw 57mins, 7). Subs (not used): Smith (gk), Chambers, McGugan, Majewski. MAN OF THE MATCH BRAD Jones the Australian has justified his recall ahead of Danny Coyne in recent weeks.
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