The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Joe Thomas

AMISSED op­por­tu­nity or a lucky es­cape? Ai­tor Karanka was do­ing well to think pos­i­tively by re­gard­ing Mid­dles­brough’s de­feat to Not­ting­ham For­est as the lat­ter when he left the City Ground.

While For­est’s resur­gence con­tin­ued un­der Dougie Freed­man by closing the gap to the top six to nine points with a hard-earned victory, Boro dropped down to fourth af­ter fail­ing to make the most of a lead se­cured by Grant Lead­bit­ter in the 27th minute.

Fourth place, how­ever, is not all it seems. De­spite los­ing for the sec­ond suc­ces­sive Satur­day, Mid­dles­brough re­main level on points – along with sec­ond­placed Derby and third-placed Wat­ford – with lead­ers Bournemouth.

It is not the sit­u­a­tion Karanka, whose side were un­done by Craig Gard­ner’s first-half stun­ner and then Dex­ter Black­stock’s win­ner 25 min­utes be­fore the end, had been de­mand­ing be­fore the game, but he has had to ac­cept it ahead of this Satur­day’s visit of Ip­swich to the River­side.

“We are dis­ap­pointed be­cause we knew we played against a good team, a team which was in a good run and with good play­ers,” said Karanka.

“I think we have done the most dif­fi­cult thing which was to score the first goal and then af­ter that we lost the con­trol of the ball.

“But the best thing is we are still at the top of the ta­ble de­spite los­ing. Ev­ery day I learn about my play­ers and my work.

“I need to keep learn­ing and this is one of those days again.

“One thing that can de­ter­mine who wins this league will be who can deal with the pres­sure. The team that man­ages the pres­sure best has more chance of go­ing up.

“The teams that have the play­ers, determined play­ers, can have an ad­van­tage.

“The teams which are fresh also have a strong chance be­cause this league is very tough. We have ten games to go and the teams that ar­rive fresh will be strong.”

Freed­man was de­lighted with the way For­est re­turned to win- ning ways to earn a sixth victory from eight since he took over from Stu­art Pearce – sug­gest­ing that he felt they had beaten the team that will win the Cham­pi­onship.

And while For­est are not think­ing about the top two, they are not ready to give up on a top-six spot just yet.

Freed­man said: “It was a su­per­hu­man ef­fort. We de­fended for our lives against the best squad. We had a game plan, we stuck to it and it re­ally was a su­per-hu­man ef­fort to get the three points.

“It was prob­a­bly more than three points when I look at it.

“I am just here to say what a great per­for­mance. Can we get a play-off place? His­tory will tell you there is a late run­ner and teams can drop out, all we can do is keep win­ning games. We are very con­fi­dent.”

When Lead­bit­ter’s cross to the back post dropped in af­ter hit­ting both the wood­work and de­fender Michael Man­ci­enne, Mid­dles­brough looked full of con­fi­dence and in con­trol.

Af­ter that, de­spite hav­ing 26 shots (four on tar­get), Mid­dles­brough failed to add a sec­ond and For­est lev­elled seven min­utes af­ter the opener. Gard- ner picked up pos­ses­sion 20 yards out and curled a pre­cise fin­ish in to the top-left cor­ner.

Mid­dles­brough con­trolled pos­ses­sion af­ter the restart but, with the ex­cep­tion of a de­flected Kike shot which went wide, goal­keeper Karl Dar­low was never se­ri­ously tested.

But then Michail An­to­nio suc­cess­fully rounded To­mas Kalas in the 65th minute be­fore rolling the ball to Black­stock af­ter a lovely counter attack. The striker, who had scored just once in 17 months be­fore yes­ter­day, took a touch and pow­ered a fin­ish be­yond Dimi Kon­stan­topou­los.

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

RE­TURN TO FORM: Dex­ter Black­stock is con­grat­u­lated on For­est’s win­ner

THREAT: Mid­dles­brough’s Kike shoots at goal

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