WHEN Aitor Karanka says he wants a reaction he gets one.
Last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to fellow promotion rivals Ipswich Town left the Middlesbrough head coach deflated and questioning his side’s attitude.
It triggered a nerve in the Boro camp for their domineering ways and goalscoring boots made a return.
Nottingham Forest put up a resilient effort in a turgid first half, repressing the hosts and silencing the near-33,000 crowd.
Shooting towards the North Stand in the second half where the words ‘we shall overcome’ make up a banner, Forest’s resistance waned as Boro improved.
The outstanding George Friend nodded in the opener from a corner on 52 minutes before sub Jelle Vossen and Grant Leadbitter from the penalty spot rounded off a return to winning ways.
What Karanka wants he gets.
“The (first) goal was nice, it was a good set-piece,” said Karanka.
“It was difficult for Jelle because he has played the last few games and [yesterday] he was on the bench.
“He took his opportunity [when he started] and he also scored from the bench which is good.”
The Spaniard, like most inside the Riverside, was frustrated after 45 minutes, however. Forest, despite having proven goalscorers Matty Fryatt and Britt Assombalonga leading their line, lacked attacking ambition.
Instead Stuart Pearce had set his team up to defend deep and limit Boro’s forward play. It wasn’t the only way Forest could have won – take a look at the aforementioned attackers – but the former England U21 manager opted for this tactic.
And while it worked for a half, it led to a dull encounter. And it couldn’t last the 90 minutes.
It was indicative of the dearth of chances carved open in the first half that the marauding left-back Friend could claim that he had the best two chances, aside from Kike’s fourth-minute toe-poke into the legs of keeper Karl Darlow.
The full-back prompted Darlow into a one-handed save with a rasping shot from an acute angle midway through the half before he propped himself up for a half-volley from 25 yards on 42 minutes that was fiercely struck and only denied by the Forest keeper’s outstretched palm.
Lee Tomlin was textbook Lee Tomlin but without the shots. Emilio Nsue and Alberto Adomah, who was swapping flanks with Patrick Bamford, provided the crosses that were not met. Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter defused attacks and set about launching Boro’s own.
But Forest battled hard in whichever way was needed to prevent Boro attacks.
It was only when half-time was upon us that Boro began a flurry of possession, little dinks, through balls and a Bamford turn and shot offering hope for the second half.
That hope was realised just seven minutes after the interval, Friend rising highest from a corner to nod Boro in front.
Friend’s goal inspired a more open contest, Adomah flicking Kike into a goalscoring position, Bamford shooting wide and Robert Tesche and Ben Osborne attempting but failing to draw level for the visitors with shots from distance from the pair.
Danny Fox should have done better for Forest when presented with a free header ten yards out but the defender’s header bounced off the turf and into the grateful palms of Konstantopoulos.
Boro were given a numerical advantage on 63 minutes when Kelvin Wilson picked up his second yellow card for a foul on Kike who did his best to ensure the defender’s dismissal by doing around ten rolls on the Riverside turf.
Boro’s pressure on the Forest defence upped the ante, with Nsue the source of frequent crosses.
It wasn’t long before sub Vossen got his first goal in front of the Riverside faithful. The Belgian had probed since his arrival for Kike, forcing a smart save from Darlow and running the line alongside Bamford.
And it was Bamford who teed up the on-loan Genk forward to stroke the ball into the bottom right-hand corner on 79 minutes.
Not to discredit Kike’s play, but the 30 minutes Vossen was on the pitch he proved more mobile, more of a threat and more dangerous than his Spanish counterpart.
Vossen’s ever-improving performances are staking the claim for him to start even more games.
When the 25-year-old collected possession before the centre-circle on 88 minutes, he passed to Reach who advanced and threaded through Bamford.
Bamford looked for the trip from Darlow and got it, referee Scott Duncan awarding a penalty that Grant Leadbitter placed down the middle.
Boro are three points shy from Championship leaders Bournemouth ahead of tomorrow’s game with Blackburn Rovers.
A win and results in Boro’s favour will mean Boro end a joyous 2014 at the summit of the table.
What Karanka wants he gets. “Since Tuesday I knew we were going to be very good [yesterday],” he added.
He was not wrong.