Pulis Boro Foils Aitor Return
By Robert Nichols
Sunday 08 Apr 2018 10:17:00
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Boro bounced back from an unhappy Easter with a 2-0 home win over Nottingham Forest. This meant a defeat for returning former boss Aitor Karanka who was accorded a standing ovation when he marched into his technical area in the first half. Goals from former Karanka Championship mainstays Ayala and Downing did the damage. But it was former Forest fan, Patrick Bamford, that starred in a game that further cements our grip on the final play off position.

There was good news for Boro fans on the way to the match. Aston Villa had lost and 6th place rivals Sheffield United were defeated at the end of a hotly contested local derby with Barnsley. Could Boro now return to form and capitalise on these results?

Tony Pulis kept faith in what has pretty much become his first eleven. That meant a return to the starting line up at right back for Ryan Shotton and former Forest forward Britt Assombalonga would have to settle for the bench as Jonny Howson would again take up an extra midfield berth. Good to see a return to the squad for Fabio.

The feeling amongst supporters pre-match was that it could be a fairly dour tactical affair between two managers that like a rigid system and build from the back. Yet Boro raced into an early lead when Daniel Ayala finished like Bamford turning on a six pence and lamping the ball into the top corner of the net.

One of the admirable qualities of Wolves was the way they went for the kill and hunted for a second and killer goal straight after taking the lead on “bad” Friday. Boro might not have torn into Forest but they made absolutely sure that Aitor's side did not get off the hook. Stewy Downing once again missed a chance before finally finding those shooting boots and tucking away a right foot shot from the edge of the area. 2-0.

Patrick Bamford led the line like a burly centre forward but one with a real quality of touch. The former Forest Academy graduate showed he could more than match any of the physical stuff coming his way and both visiting centre halves knew that they had been in a battle with him. Great to see, I thought.

It was a rare quiet day for Adama Traore. It looked as if the incredible efforts of the last few games had taken their toll. Yet with Forest assigning two men with a watching brief over the winger that meant there was more space for others and they certainly exploited it. Boro might easily have been even further in front as every Friend long throw or corner kick caused panic in mayhem in a very un-Karanka like backline for Forest.

The visitors did finish the half with a whole cluster of corners and that dominance of possession was to continue in the second period as Boro retreated and relied on the breakaway. It has been a feature of many Tony Pulis games, whether directed from the manager or not, that the players defend very deep. Then again that was a tactic Aitor Karanka also liked to deploy. Despite the best efforts of Tomlin, who impressed throughout, Forest did not show enough cutting edge to overly test us. When Tomlin and co. did get through our packed and disciplined defence, Darren Randolph was there to throw himself at the ball.

In the end Boro brought on Forest old boy, Britt Assombalonga for Traore who was given a standing ovation as he left the action. On another day Britt might have had a hat trick as Jonny Howson stepped up his interventionist game and helped set the hit man on a path to goal. A mixture of poor finishing and good goalkeeping prevented Britt scoring for the second game in succession.

There was just about time for more silky touches from Bamford and glimpses of a promising partnership with Assombalonga before the former Chelsea man was subbed. Everyone was on their feet to applaud a wonderful effort from Paddy Bamford.

Three points in the bag and the difficult test of Karanka's return successfully negotiated. Now can we bring back a points from Sheff Utd on Tuesday night and get back on a roll again?

Middlesbrough 2-0 Nottingham Forest – Ayala, Downing.

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