Final Score: Middlesbrough 1 Nottingham Forest 1
JUST when you think a corner has been turned, someone is always on hand to peg you back. Literally.
Middlesbrough were heading for back-to-back home wins for the first time since December and on course to equal a 27-year club record of successive clean sheets at home until Darius Henderson popped up in the 81st minute to bundle Andy Reid’s cross past Dimi Konstantopoulos with his hand.
Aitor Karanka’s men had taken a second half lead through Mustapha Carayol, but having failed to put the game to bed they were punished, although unfairly, when Henderson handled the ball home.
Konstantopoulos chased referee Roger East back to the centre circle in rage and Ben Gibson pleaded with his assistant that the goal should be disallowed, but Boro’s appeals were dismissed and Forest headed back to the East Midlands with their first point in four games.
Some replays confirmed the Teessiders had a right to be aggrieved, while others angles were inconclusive.
Without being spectacular, Boro had done enough to win the game and although chances of making the play-offs have all but slipped away finishing as high up the table remains the objective.
Hoping to build on Saturday’s 2-0 win over Ipswich, Karanka named an unchanged team for the first time since taking over and they looked on course to record three points when Carayol curled in a superb goal seven minutes after the interval.
Forest were quiet in the opening first half and created few shots on target, but despite going behind they showed resilience to dig out a result and that characteristic is something that separates play-off challengers from pretenders.
Boro started brightly and having scored twice at the weekend, Graham got a header in on goal from Ledesma’s cross in the second minute, but the striker couldn’t find the target at get Boro off to the perfect start.
Forest still occupy a play-off spot, one every Teessider inside the Riverside last night will envy, despite suffering three consecutive defeats and Billy Davies’ side looked jittery in the opening exchanges.
Nottingham Forest’s Jamie Mackie slides in on Middlebrough’s Kenneth Omeruo
Some good pressure from Carayol earned Karanka’s men a corner, but Boro couldn’t build on their bright start allowing Forest to breath a little easier.
Carayol had the best chance to open the scoring when Grant Leadbitter’s corner found him in space but Forest defender Jamaal Lascelles cleared his header off the line and it seemed Boro’s problems in front of goal were coming back to haunt them again.
At the other end, they were solid for large periods of the first half with Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo continuing to impress together, but there were a few gasping moments that allowed Forest a way in.
However, Dimi Konstantopoulos was on hand to deny both Simon Cox and Djamel Abdoun, the first from a close range header and the second a dangerous long-range effort after Nathanial Chalobah had gifted the Forest man possession.
Karanka has told the Greek keeper that he could have a future on Teesside beyond the end of the season and the 35-year-old again showed why he should not be regarded as back up to Jason Steele and Tomas Mejias.
Carayol almost put Boro head a minute before the interval when Emmanuel Ledesma’s cross-field pass sent him free in space, but after jinking inside the winger couldn’t direct his shot on target.
Karanka left the former Bristol Rovers man out for two games because of an attitude problem, but he showed why he is so important to the side in the 54th minute.
Albert Adomah, who replaced the injured Lee Tomlin before the break, found Carayol in space on left and after cutting inside he fired a lovely curling effort inside Karl Darlow’s far post.
It was exactly the response Karanka wanted after making the bold decision to leave him out and it knocked the steam out of a Forest side struggling to find any rhythm and gave Boro the impetus to build on Saturday’s win.
Carayol should have had a second in the 70th minute when Boro broke forward in numbers, but the winger’s curling effort, which was almost identical to his goal, went wide of the post this time.
Forest enjoyed the bulk of possession in the second half with the Teessiders happy to sit back and hit on the counter, but the visitors failed to take advantage and didn’t really muster up any meaningful attacks.
However, with ten minutes remaining and out of nowhere, Davies’ men drew level. Substitute Andy Reid sent an inviting ball into the box towards fellow sub Darius Henderson and he got a touch on the ball to take it past Konstantopoulos.
The Boro keeper immediately chased after the referee suggesting Henderson had got the final touch with his hand, but despite Boro’s appeals referee Roger East allowed the goal to stand.
It was a hard pill to swallow for Boro having been the better side, but their decision to sit back ultimately cost them.
Nottingham Forest’s Darius Henderson, who appeared to score with his hand, celebrates his goal
Danny Graham almost put Boro back ahead three minutes later, but his effort cannoned off the post with Forest scrambling to clear the ball away.