WEEK TO SAVOUR FOR NEW DAD DAN
Ayala earns Boro fourth straight win
IT HAD already been a good week for Daniel Ayala thanks to the birth of his son, but it became an even better one at the City Ground as his first-half header enabled Middlesbrough to complete a perfect seven days.
Having already seen off MK Dons and Brentford at the Riverside, Boro made it nine points in the space of three matches as they once again showcased their promotion credentials in Nottingham.
Having been handed the ideal start when David Nugent scored in the third minute, Aitor Karanka’s side were pegged back as Matt Mills volleyed home in a whirlwind opening spell.
But while he might not be getting much sleep following the arrival of a baby boy, Ayala’s alertness proved crucial just before the interval as he stole into the six-yard box to stab home from close range.
Dimi Konstantopoulos’ second-half penalty save was another decisive moment, but it was Ayala leading the celebrations after the Teessiders held out to claim only their second win at the City Ground in 42 years.
Karanka said: “It has been a good week for him, and he also told Dimi that Henri Lansbury would put his penalty straight down the middle so everything was good for him.
“He is an important player for us, and he knows that every day he is improving and growing up. He has to keep doing that, and he has to make sure he is always concentrating because it is easy to make mistakes and give things away.
“I am really pleased with him, but I am pleased with all of them because their attitude has been excellent. I might not have been really pleased with this performance, but I know how difficult it was to win the game.”
Having recalled Albert Adomah for his first start since the winger submitted a formal transfer request at the end of last month, Karanka was able to watch his side make an ideal start.
George Friend whipped over a dangerous cross from the left, and while Adomah failed to connect at the near post, Nugent stole into the area to steer the ball home from close range.
Forest’s response was both immediate and emphatic, with centre-half Mills meeting Lansbury’s corner with a ferocious first-time volley that ripped into the net.
Downing should have restored Boro’s lead in the 11th minute, only for the former England international to roll his shot too close to goalkeeper Dorus de Vries after he broke clear of the Forest back four, but the visitors successfully reclaimed their advantage before the interval.
Adam Clayton crossed from the right, Kelvin Wilson miscued his attempted defensive header, and Ayala displayed quick reactions to steal into the six-yard box to head home.
Forest spent most of the second half pushing for an equaliser, but Konstantopoulos made fine saves to deny Ryan Mendes and Eric Lichaj.
The hosts’ best opportunity came 13 minutes from time, with Ben Gibson inexplicably handling on the right- hand side of the area. Konstantopoulos saved Lansbury’s penalty, before also keeping out Jamie Ward’s follow-up effort.
Forest boss Dougie Freedman said: “The difference between Middlesbrough and just about any other team is that they’ve been spending a lot of money for the last two and half years.
“They have a manager who has been there for quite a while now, and that gives them a lot of consistency. When you have that, and I had it at Crystal Palace, it just rolls.
“Because of that consistency, and getting the right players, they have a fantastic balance in their squad. That is why I believe they will be champions – because of the consistency.”
PRESSURE: Middlesbrough’s David Nugent is tackled by Nottingham Forest’s Henri Lansbury
WINNER: Daniel Ayala scores Middlesbrough’s second as he beats Nottingham Forest’s Dorus de Vries to the high ball
STAR MAN DIMI K’TOPO
ULOS Middle sbroug