The more Billy Davies protests that his Nottingham Forest side are not ready to play in the Premier League next season, the more determined they appear to be there regardless. When defeat at their local rivals Derby prefaced a run of three reverses in four matches their manager seemed to have a point, blaming tired legs and a lack of selection alternatives.
But after two gritty single-goal wins in five days they are back in the top two in the Championship and, barring a spectacular collapse, Davies will have to come to terms with being in the play-offs at least.
Gordon Strachan felt his side deserved not to lose but Forest came up with a resilience that Davies was right to highlight, particularly in defence, where Kelvin Wilson and Wes Morgan were outstanding. Though Middlesbrough had the greater share of possession, it was not until deep into the second half that they were able to test Forest's goalkeeper, Lee Camp.
Forest's ninth consecutive home win equalled the club record for a single season – Brian Clough's team won 12 in a row across two campaigns in 1980 – but Davies was just as excited at keeping a clean sheet.
"The way we defended, given the age of the players and the situation we find ourselves in, with 18 fit players, against a team just down from the Premier League, that shows you how far we have come," Davies said.
For long periods Forest were forced on the back foot, but their strength is their capacity to strike on the break and their goal was typical of their repertoire. Wilson's ball from the back found Dexter Blackstock, who set Radoslav Majewski on a run before taking the ball back as Forest rapidly turned defence into dangerous attack.
Chris Cohen, who had found the net earlier only to be denied by an offside flag, appeared as the overlapping runner on the right, and when Blackstock's pass set him up to shoot, he found a decisive finish. Camp came to Forest's rescue twice in the closing stages, pulling off an outstanding save to deflect a shot from Leroy Lita round his left-hand post, then keeping out a header from Emanuel Pogatetz with equal dexterity.