I believe it was Arnold Palmer who is reported to have said "The more I practice, the luckier I get." It would be rather unfair - and totally inaccurate - to label the impact that Dougie Freedman has had since he took over as Nottingham Forest manager as luck. However, things seem to have fallen into place for Freedman more than they did for Stuart Pearce. Opposition shots are missing rather than flying in, passes are going astray, defenders are slipping, that kind of thing. It's hard to imagine Pearce's Forest pulling off the gritty rearguard actions that Freedman's Reds managed against Bournemouth and Middlesbrough, but these two very similar victories were secured by solid resolve, hard work and taking chances. Certainly not luck.
Following Freedman's first defeat as Forest manager he was forced into more changes than he's had to make in any of his matches so far. Both Matt Fryatt and Danny Fox suffered minor knocks; so Dexter Blackstock started up front and Eric Lichaj returned to the familiarly unfamiliar left back berth. Kelvin Wilson returned in place of Danny Collins, while Michael Mancienne lined up in midfield, replacing Ben Osborn. One suspects that Collins and Osborn were feeling the pace after the recent run of matches, rather than anything more sinister.
There was a distinctly Forest flavour to the visitors' team too, as Patrick Bamford and goalkeeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos made their City Ground returns. Boro also fielded Grant Leadbitter, Albert Adomah and George Friend, all of whom had been linked with moves to Forest at one time or another,
The opening exchanges were somewhat scrappy, possibly due to the strong wind which was blasting across the ground. Michail Antonio's deflected shot forced Dimi (I'm not typing Konstantopoulos out every time I mention him) into a good save. Gradually though, Boro started to turn the screw, finding space down the left and keeping Lichaj very busy. One of these forays won them a corner, which was taken short (we never learn) and found Leadbitter. His attempted cross looped over Karl Darlow, hit the far post, rebounded off Mancienne and into the net to give the Teesside team the lead. After having lost against Charlton, this looked like a big test for Forest.
It was a test which the players were equal to. Blackstock flashed a header wide from a Gary Gardner cross, before Gardner himself levelled things up with a wonderful curling shot from outside the penalty area. Boro were forced to replace the dangerous Ryan Fredericks due to injury - which made Lichaj's afternoon a lot easier - and the first half ended with honours even.
The second half started even more scrappily than the first, scrappier than a scrap metal merchant impersonating Scrappy Doo in fact. Simple passes were misplaced, longer ones were misjudged and neither side could keep possession. Antonio in particular was having one of those afternoons, when balls which usually stuck to him ended up bouncing off at angles as yet undiscovered by science.
But then, as he has done so often this season, he clicked. A rampaging run forced Tomas Kalas to concede a corner, though much of the Trent End thought it should've been a penalty; then, barely minutes later, another gallop down the left saw Antonio find Blackstock in the box. The ball seemed to be stuck under the striker's feet but he somehow dug out a shot with enough power to find the top corner and give Forest the lead. It was a really good finish which topped off his 150th appearance in the Garibaldi very nicely indeed.
From then on in, the Reds sat deep and Boro dominated possession. The rest of the second half went something like: pass pass shot blocked pass cross cleared pass shot blocked cross cleared shot hit the post goal kick. For all the visitors' efforts though, I can only remember Darlow making one real save. Forest didn't offer much more themselves but in the end they didn't need to, and the Charlton defeat was well and truly forgotten as another hard-won victory was secured.
I won't lie, the second half was difficult to watch at times as Forest defended very deep and let Boro dictate the play, but it's hard to question Freedman's tactics as the visitors couldn't find a way through, with their only goal coming courtesy of a fluke. It would be easy to say that better teams might have punished Forest, but there aren't many better teams in the division; and the one team who probably are better - Bournemouth - suffered the same fate.
The top of the Championship is ridiculously close, with one point separating the top five teams and five points separating the top seven. Of Forest's remaining ten matches, five of them are against teams currently above us. Our fate may not be in our own hands, but results like this one ensures there's enough to play for to keep things interesting. It always is with us. It always is.