Neil Warnock's gamble paid off as Middlesbrough secured all three points at Nottingham Forest - Here's what we learned
We may only be seven games into the new Championship season but Middlesbrough’s win over Nottingham Forest already feels like a big one.
Neil Warnock’s side arrived at the City Ground 18th in the league table with just one win from their opening six games as supporters began to express fears after a number of injury concerns had left Warnock’s side short on both quality and points.
But the trip to bottom-of-the-table Forest proved just the tonic for Warnock who reshuffled his Middlesbrough pack both in terms of personnel and in his formation as they climbed into the top half of the table.
There was a first goal for new loan signing Andraz Sporar who impressed on his full debut alongside fellow new signing Cameroon international James Lea Siliki before Onel Hernandez grabbed his first goal for the club in the second half.
Here are some of the takeaways from Boro’s comfortable 2-0 success in the East Midlands.
Change of system and personnel paid off against Nottingham Forest
It was a gamble from Warnock, who had expressed a reluctance to throw both Sporar and Siliki in from the start, but his three changes to the starting XI who lost at Coventry City paid off.
There was some surprise when the impressive Isaiah Jones found himself on the bench alongside Uche Ikpeazu for both Sporar and Siliki with Sol Bamba dropping to the bench for Lee Peltier in the third change.
But the change in personnel allowed Warnock to tinker with his system and revert to four at the back which allowed his side more attacking impetus against a vulnerable Forest side.
Both Hernandez and Marcus Tavernier were allowed free reign to attack from the wings with Matt Crooks providing a suitable foil for Sporar who led the line.
While there wasn’t always the end product Boro fans would have liked the urgency and desire to attack certainly was and is something supporters will hope see replicated going forward.
Clean sheet against Nottingham Forest offers Middlesbrough something to build on as a back four
After the game Warnock declared this win much more representative of ‘a Neil Warnock team’ and nothing emphasises that as much as the clean sheet his side earned.
While the experienced Peltier was brought in almost as an emergency left-back he was able to deal with the tricky Brennan Johnson fairly comfortably on the night while both Grant Hall and Dael Fry nullified the threat of former Sunderland man Lewis Grabban in attack.
Goalkeeper Joe Lumley was relatively unmoved in goal and dealt with what little had to do well with the only real threat coming early in the first half as defender Joe Worrall saw his effort excellently blocked by Crooks.
There will be sterner tests for the Boro defence going forward but this is a good foundation to build upon as a back four with the likes of Paddy McNair and Marc Bola still to return from injury.
New Middlesbrough signings impressed but will need time to settle in
While Sporar has grabbed the headlines with his emphatic opener for Boro both he and midfielder Siliki will need time to settle into the 4-2-3-1 system.
For large parts of the game Slovenian Sporar was anonymous as he continues to feel his way into the bar brawl of Championship football.
But the occasions he did see the ball the 27-year-old’s quality was there for all to see – none more so than with his superb goal.
A wonderful through ball from Tavernier gave Sporar something to run onto in behind, the likes of which Boro supporters haven’t seen in a while, and he finished in style, arrowing his strike beyond Ethan Horvath at his near post.
With the endeavour of Crooks and the pace of Hernandez and Tavernier in behind Sporar he was afforded the luxury of pulling defenders around with his movement which worked well for Boro across the game.
Siliki showed his presence from the off in the game winning the ball in midfield and driving forward before firing over.
Much like Sporar he tired as the game went on but there was a physical presence about the on-loan Rennes man that will be more than welcome in a Warnock midfield and you suspect he will only improve as he earns more game time.
Middlesbrough set pieces must improve
The threat of both Hernandez and Tavernier was evident all night at the City Ground in play but when Boro earned themselves opportunities from set pieces they were often found wanting with some poor deliveries.
It wasn’t until the arrival of Ikpeazu from the bench in the final 10 minutes Boro were able to threaten from a free-kick from the left.
A number of corner routines were worked short by Hernandez and Tavernier to no avail which will need more work on the training ground going forward.
Middlesbrough fans still behind Warnock
Despite whispers of unrest among supporters, the travelling Boro fans of almost 1,500 showed their unwavering backing for boss Warnock with regular chants for the 72-year-old throughout the 90 minutes.
Warnock admitted before the game his side are behind target so far this season after a disappointing start to the campaign and that wins were the only way to reassure supporters going forward and they did just that last night much to the delight of the travelling contingent.
With a selection of favourable games coming up it was an important win to help get the Riverside faithful back on side.