JUST 77 seconds had passed at Pride Park. Britt Assombalonga was presented with a gift by the Derby County defence.

Confidence sapped, the striker hesitated and blew the opening. You could give him the same opportunity again and, on this evidence, he would waste it 77 more times too.

When Curtis Davies played an errant pass, Assombalonga latched onto it. He moved around advancing goalkeeper Kelle Roose with poise and purpose.

Then came the concerning part; the putting the ball into the net aspect.

He took a touch to compose himself, but he didn’t really need to. Instinctively a striker on top of his game finishes first time with confidence.

But he is playing with little belief. That extra touch and slight hesitation was enough to give Matt Clarke the chance to get back and close him down. His finish was straight into the advancing centre-half.

Just 90 seconds in and that was that in front of goal for Boro and Assombalonga. It’s now 363 minutes since Boro scored. Getting Britain out of the European Union is a less taxing affair than getting them to score.

Robbie Keane, a centre forward of some repute in his day, can’t teach confidence in his role as assistant manager. He can give Assombalonga and Co – although to be fair, Jonathan Woodgate’s options are fairly limited – all the advice and information they can take on board.

Carrying out and applying those instructions and plans is a different matter altogether in a struggling team. It’s eight games without a win for a team third bottom in the Championship.

They never looked like winning this one. Reduced to ten men for an hour after the sending-off of George Saville, the game passed them by in the main.

In the same manner, plenty of games passed Sunderland by in the Championship two years ago and look where they ended up.

“You could say it's luck but it comes down to putting the ball in the onion bag, isn’t it?’’ mused Woodgate in the Pride Park press room.

“You've got to concentrate on the little things. Like me at centre-half, you've got to win your headers. A midfielder has to hit a certain pass. You've got to put it in the back of the net.

“We have to take our chances.

“You've seen the last four games, if you look at the chances we've created in those four games – and I'm not talking difficult chances, I'm talking about easy chances that we need to score.”

The manager was loathe to criticise his front man, but he was clearly exasperated. Was Assombalonga’s performance and miss a sign of a striker with zero self-belief?

“Maybe so. I can't give the forward players any more confidence than I'm giving them,’’ added Woodgate.

“I've talked about them relentlessly, through pre-season, through nearly every press conference, in meetings, in one-on-ones. Sometimes as a player if you go through a tough spell you need to look at yourself and back yourself because you're there for a reason in the first place.

“How did you get there? What do you need to keep on doing? You need to do all the right things and keep on doing them. Sooner or later something will happen and you will start scoring.”

He added: “We're away from home, aren't we? So the fans aren't on our backs. The Derby fans are getting on their backs. Our fans are behind us, there's no real pressure on our players.

“We need to start hitting the back of the net.”

Derby’s Tom Lawrence showed how to score. Twice he beat Aynsley Pears with smart finishes. First he cracked in low from the edge of the area, and then in the last ten minutes burst into the area and angled his shot across Pears.

Lawrence, along with team-mate Mason Bennett, have recently been convicted for drink driving. Captain Richard Keogh was a passenger in the car and was sacked last week for his role in the incident which brought shame on the club.

Both Lawrence and Bennett appear more valuable commodities than a 33-year-old centre-half.

The pair were fined, banned from driving for two years and ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid work after being charged with drink driving. The pair were also fined six weeks’ wages by Derby.

At least Boro’s problems are all on the pitch. How can Woodgate, just two wins and 16 games into his managerial career turn things around?

A goal in off a £15m striker’s backside would be a start: “Maybe so, everyone says that about the strikers.

“But we are getting really good chances to score goals and hopefully one will go in on off someone's backside, like a cliché.

“But we are getting good chances, really good chances to turn games.’’

Woodgate wants to play with a three-man defence, but his plans were scuppered half an hour in when George Saville was sent-off.

He had to go in for the ball, but was slightly late and caught Krystian Bielik. The amateur dramatics that followed ensured Saville was sent-off.

Bielik was later substituted through injury, with boss Phillip Cocu confirming the injury was not from the red card incident.

Woodgate’s response to the red card was to puff out his cheeks, hands in pockets as he turned to the bench. The system changed from 3-5-2 to 4-4-1.

Assombalonga was left alone up front.

The striker’s day didn’t start well. Three seconds in and he gave away a free kick for handball.

After his 77 second misdemeanour, the broke away and again looked the part. Powerful and showing intent.

But when it came to application and setting up Marcus Browne, his pass went straight to Clarke.

Next up, only eight minutes in he held up his run in behind the defence, waiting for a Dael Fry pass. By the time it arrived he was offside. “Forest reject” chanted the home faithful and that was before he looked strong on the edge of the area, before bouncing a woeful shot wide.

Boro are lumbered with a £15m lumbering centre-forward.

Woodgate added: “We went behind, and because they are one-up it’s different and difficult. The game is finished basically when Sav is sent-off. It’s tough.

“The message at half-time was keep going, but it’s hard. We have played missing, fletch has a calf-strain. We have a young bench, that’s how it is.

“We are missing experienced players – Darren (Randolph), Rudy (Gestede), George (Friend), (Ashley) Fletcher, Ryan (Shotton). It’s a big proportion missing.’’

Boro go to QPR on Saturday before the two-week international break.

Woodgate remain positive and defiant in the face of adversity: “You have to stay positive, together as a group, and you knuckle down as individuals and as a team and I'm not just talking about the XI, I'm talking about the whole squad, about the staff at the training ground, they have to remain positive because that's how you get out of this situation that we find ourselves in at the minute.

“I'm not going to lie, it's difficult isn't it, you feel it, of course you do. I don't like losing games, that's for starters, but you've got to remain strong for your team and you go again, you keep on going and I won't stop.”