THE steel of Redcar rock David Wheater is being missed at the heart of a Middlesbrough defence that crumbled at the death.
Boro boss Tony Mowbray admitted Wheater’s move to Bolton Wanderers and a spate of injuries has softened his side’s core, making it hard to close out games.
His team had looked set to beat Nottingham Forest on Teesside for the first time since 1973 after Scott McDonald’s opener on 51 minutes.
But his academy back-five was rocked with seconds to go as lumbering striker Dele Adebola pounced on woeful defending of a simple long ball to snatch a point.
“We will take the positives of the energy and the drive and trying to score a second goal,” said a frustrated Mowbray.
“But David Wheater is not here and [Matthew] Bates is injured. We have two young boys who have played less than 20 league games in their career at the centre of our defence and for 90 odd minutes they did a very good job tonight.”
Jonathan Grounds and Seb Hines were thrown back together in the back line after loanee Andrew Davies joined Boro’s bulging physio room.
“It deflates footballers in a dressing room when you lose a late goal like that,” sighed Mowbray after the game.
“While they are rightly distraught, disappointed and upset, I think my message to them is you did alright tonight against a side trying to get in the top two and that has been in the top three or four for the last four years.”
Mowbray had also brought Barry Robson into the starting eleven at the expense of Marvin Emnes to provide a bit more experience to a youthful line-up.
But the teamsheet looked distinctly uninspiring with no sign of pace and little flair.
So it was no surprise that both teams kept each other restricted to long range efforts.
Their was little to keep the sparse crowd away from their Bovrils and programmes until Andrew Taylor caused a stir with 38 minutes gone as he came close to scoring his first goal in 112 starts for the club.
But his sweetly struck volley from the edge of the box was matched brilliantly by Forest keeper Lee Camp.
Boro fans may have been expecting more of the mundane after half-time but those lingering in the concourses would have been surprised to hear cheers from above.
Tony McMahon had almost given Boro the perfect restart as he curled a 25-yard free-kick right into the bottom corner of Camp’s goal.
But the keeper managed to fingertip the ball onto the post and away before Lita cracked an effort straight at the stopper.
It was the former Reading poacher that burst into the box and found Robson surging forward on his outside to unlock Forest’s defence.
The Scot’s low cross was scuffed by Arca on the penalty spot but the ball bounced kindly through to McDonald.
He fired high into the net from eight yards out to notch up his eighth of the season.
And the Aussie almost made it nine when he caught Camp napping with an effort from 25 yards before Taylor forced the keeper into another panicked save with a fierce strike from the edge of the box.
Boro looked far more comfortable after taking the lead with Taylor looking a real danger on the left wing. Both he and McDonald came close to adding a second with firmly struck efforts.
Yet despite the chances, this was no vintage display with plenty of sloppy passes and wasted possession.
It would have been fitting if Robson’s scruffy strike from distance had found the net rather than the post after it deflected off the back of Cohen.
Instead it was Forest who picked up a messy equaliser as Adebola latched on to the ball in the box with seconds remaining.
Boro’s defence looked hapless as the lumbering striker ran onto the bobbling ball before scuffing a finish that was enough to beat a sprawling Jason Steele and stun the home side.
The point did move Boro to six points away from the relegation zone, but they will travel to Reading on Saturday knowing more than draws are needed to put fears of League One football to bed.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Grounds, Hines, Taylor, Bennett, McMahon, Bailey, Robson, Arca, McDonald, Lita. Subs: Ripley, Haas, Zemmama, Smallwood, Boyd, Kink, Emnes
Nott’m Forest: Camp, Chambers, Morgan, Gunter, Lynch (Moloney 38), McGugan (Anderson 61), Cohen, McKenna, Earnshaw, McCleary, McGoldrick (Adebola 67)
Subs: Smith, Moloney, Anderson, Majewski, Adebola, Tudgay, Rodney
Ref: Mr Ilderton Att: 15,341.