THERE was plenty of post-match anger and wounded screams of “we was robbed” after Boro’s long time Arch Nemesis Darius Henderson grabbed a point with his Hasselbainkesque handball finish in the 1-1 draw with Forest.
But Boro have only themselves to blame. They weathered an early storm – Dimi made two good saves in the first half as Forest looked sharper and more hungry – and they managed to claw themselves into the lead after the Naughty Step Siblings Albert and Muzzy combined for a well engineered opener… but then they missed a string of golden chances to kill the game off and then got caught cold late on with a sucker punch. Literally.
It shouldn’t have come to that. Carayol almost curled in a replica second then Danny Graham first stabbed against the post from four yards then chested down in the box to create a perfect opening only to don his banana boots and screw well wide.The game should have been wrapped up long before Henderson – no stranger to using his fist – got ahead of Gibson to a cross to scoop home.
After the game there was a Teesside tunnel huddle as we all – coaches and press plus Boro TV kingpin Adam Nolan who had the master-tapes – watched it over and over. You can watch it here.
It looked like he’d been caught red handed but in real time and from where the ref was stood makes it a very hard call to make – although it’s fair to say Dimi was convinced. His sprint upfield in pursuit of the ref to remonstrate about the great injustice would have given pre-match medal wielder Richard Kilty – “the Teesside Tornado” – a real run for his money over 40 metres while Ben Gibson was adamant afterwards that it had been steered in illegally.
That was Karanka’s main evidence. “I didn’t need to see the replays… the reaction of my players was enough for me. It is for the Forest player to explain if it hit his hand or not… but I think it was handball, for sure. You could see from the reaction of my players, from Dimi and from Gibbo too that that they thought it was handball. Dimi would not have chased the referee to complain if he wasn’t sure and I trust 100% in these players.”
And it is fair to say too that this picture from the Nottingham Evening Post looks damning.
As scorer Henderson – who has netted against Boro for Reading, Sheffield United, Millwall and Forest – was wheeled out for a pitchside interview and the first question he was asked was: did that go in off your hand. Cue a shift-eyed, sheepish and guilty sounding response: “To be honest it all happened so fast and I don’t know if it hit my shouldler my thigh, my hand or what part of my body.” No need for a polygraph on this one. If a ball is zipped in you know exactly which part of your body it has hit. Unless that failure to feel and control sensation in his various appendages explains his ineptitude in every other game he plays except against Boro.
At least Sheffield Wednesday keeper Chris “it was miles over the line” Kirkland had the good grace to fess up after robbing Boro in a ghost goal horror at Hillsborough!.
Mind you, you have to admire the honesty of assistant David Kelly (doing the press as perma-seething Billy Davies is under a self-imposed press embargo following his latest banishment to the stands). “Ned” said: “At first look it seems as if he has hit it with his arm but I haven’t had time to ask Darius about it and to be honest I don’t really care.”
That said, Boro have only themselves to blame form the goal. After the best of 12 hours rigid Riverside defending that was a poor one to concede. Varga was too easily beaten down the flank to allow what looked a harmless trundle down the flank to become a dangerous one. Then when the cross came in Handerson too easily got goalside of Gibson – who had otherwise had an excellent game and was one of the better performers – to reach out for the ball. Could Dimi have done better? I’m not sure on that. But he shouldn’t have had to.
As I said, for all the righteous indignation over the moral content of the equaliser, it was a fair result. They could have been behind at the break then having got ahead failed to wrap it up and paid the price. So, a draw. But four points in two games against sides well above us in the league is not a bad return for a team that hadn’t scored for seven games going into the fixtures.
The big blow is missing out on equalling the club record for successive clean sheets. They got within 10 minutes of an eighth successive shut-out at home. Eleven hours and 54 minutes. That is incredible. The Forest goal was the first conceded at the Riverside since the 1-0 defeat to Brighton in mid-December. And it was the first goal from open play home or away since the defeat at Leicester. The only other goals leaked – at Watford and Sheff Wed – were penalties.
All the attention has been on the goal-drought for weeks now and the fantastic record at the other end has gone under the radar even though the watertight back-line could have more long lasting significance for the future shape and prospects of the team.
THE EXTENT of the Riverside revolving door was stark when looking at the team sheet from the same fixture in April last year.
The only player who started that match and at the Riverside last night was Mustapha Carayol, who netted the goal in a scrappy 1-0 win that temporarily slammed the breaks on their headlong rush towards the relegation zone.
Of the other the 14 players that featured in that game only Jason Steele, on the bench, was involved while Rhys Williams is crocked. All the others are no longer at the club.
Andy Halliday is on loan at Blackpool and Richie Smallwood is at Rotherham but the rest have gone in a major cull. At the back Andre Bikey and Justin Hoyte have been moved on, a borrowed midfield trio of Keiron Dyer, Josh McEachran and Sammy Ameobi have all been returned to sender and up front ace striker Scott McDonald – former Messiah and stick to beat the boss with – has disappeared into Millwall’s reserves. That is some clear out.
Even the subs used that night are no longer available. Adam Reach is on loan at Bradford, Faris Haroun has been unloaded to Blackpool and ginger human shield Nicky Bailey has joined the former Boro contingent at the New Den.
THEIR dug-out may have lacked Billy’s fury but there was still plenty of Forest fire on show.
The short-fused Forest boss was in the stands serving one of his frequent touchline bans but that didn’t take the sting out of the technical area. Assistant David Kelly was suffering from burning ears as he spent as much time answering his mobile phone – and holding it well away from his lug while wincing – as he did pointing and shouting at his players.
Clearly it was the boss on the blower. You could almost see those cartoon squiggles indicating angry shouting radiating at the other end. And it clearly got to Kelly as he became more animated as the game wore on.
At one point in the first half the slight but spiky former striker squared up with Boro’s burly goal-keeping coach Leo Percovic after a tackle by Jamie Mackie almost snapped Jozsef Varga in half right in front of the dug-outs. Staff from either side and the fourth official had to haul them apart.