They succeeded in doing so, moving a point clear of West Bromwich Albion at the top of the First Division table and thwarting Boro's bid for pole position in the process.
Both clubs may be stuck in second class on the national football network but more likely than not only temporarily, judging by the first-rate fare they produced in an opening 20 minutes worthy of the Premiership stage. It was the high speed, high quality play of Steve Stone which set the tone. Thrice in the opening seven minutes the one-time England wide-boy ripped into the home guard, removing any doubts that the knee ligament damage he suffered 13 months ago had taken the edge off his pace.
Boro, though, weathered the early storm and responded with a whirlwind 10th minute move that took Emerson from defence to attack. After halting a Forest advance deep in his own half, the Brazilian midfielder played a sweeping pass to Mikkel Beck and then swept forward himself to accept the return ball. His nonchalant finish, though, landed inches wide of Dave Beasant's right-hand post.
The combative Mark Summerbell and the ubiquitous Craig Hignett both had shots deflected off target before half-time, but Forest had regained the initiative by then. Kevin Campbell and Chris Bart-Williams, in particular, ought to have capitalised on the sharp attacking that cut through an increasingly ponderous Middlesbrough defence.
It was a rather different story after the break. Beasant blocked a Beck drive with his chest, then tipped over a header from the Dane as Forest reeled against the ropes.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Maddison, Vickers, Pearson, Festa (Harrison, 90); Hignett (Ormerod, 65), Summerbell, Emerson, Townsend; Merson, Beck. Substitute not used: Freestone.
Nottingham Forest (4-4-2): Beasant; Lyttle, Chettle, Hjelde, Rogers; Stone, Cooper, Gemmill, Bart-Williams; Campbell, Van Hooijdonk. Substitutes not used: Woan, Pascalo (gk), Moore.
Referee: D Laws (Whitley Bay).