Forest now need to win six of their last eight matches to acquire the 40 points generally recognised as the minimum requirement for survival. Ron Atkinson had been telling everyone it can happen. Not any more. The usual wise-cracking optimism gave way to fury as someone suggested his side had been unlucky.
"Unlucky? I thought we were weak-willed in the last half an hour, " Atkinson stormed. "We showed no mental strength at all and I'm furious about it. We had got a head of steam up and were driving the game, but one or two players started to do stupid things and our discipline went out of the window.
"It was a game we had to win and it was there for us to win. We aren't good enough to give goals away and we have left ourselves even more in the lurch now."
Atkinson had gone for broke, charging boldly into the fray with Neil Shipperley, Dougie Freedman and Pierre van Hooijdonk forming an attacking triumvirate. But he was outwitted by his spiritual son. Bryan Robson, whose admiration for the man who launched his career remains undiminished, chose to dispense with adventure, leaving Paul Gascoigne on the bench and combining Andy Townsend, Robbie Mustoe and Neil Maddison in a steely, workmanlike midfield that for the most part stifled Forest's limited creativity.
Forest carved out some half-decent early chances but the crucial first break went the way of the opposition when a defensive lapse handed Middlesbrough the lead. Jesper Mattson let Hamilton Ricard get goalside of him and watched helplessly as Robbie Stockdale's pass floated over him and into the path of the Middlesbrough striker, whose finish was clean and accurate.
Forest kept their heads up and were level within seven minutes. Shipperley flicked on a long ball, Freedman controlled it on his chest and tucked it past Mark Schwarzer for his third goal in three games.
Freedman disappeared with a dead leg at half-time, although with no loss of momentum. Shipperley should have scored for them on the hour, outjumping Schwarzer but heading Alan Rogers' cross wide. Instead, it was Middlesbrough who had the last word, punishing another defensive error. Steve Chettle's misdirected back-header put Brian Deane through. He wriggled past Christian Edwards and lobbed the ball over Mark Crossley, prompting a dismayed home crowd to turn for the exits en masse.