THEY might be lacking experience and senior players, but this is not a Middlesbrough side that is devoid of spirit or resolve.

For the second time in four days, Jonathan Woodgate was forced to select a youthful starting line-up lacking a host of established names. For the second time in four days, his youngsters did him proud as they ground out a valuable result.

It wasn’t a win to match the weekend victory against Charlton Athletic, but the 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest felt like something of a moral victory given that Boro had to come from behind to achieve it, having defended resolutely for more than an hour.

Trailing to Ryan Yates’ 63rd-minute header, the Teessiders looked to be heading for defeat as the game entered its final ten minutes, but substitute Marvin Johnson lured Jack Robinson into an ill-advised lunge in the penalty area, and in the absence of the injured Britt Assombalonga, Paddy McNair held his nerve to convert from the spot.

It was no more than Boro deserved given the quality of their defensive work, with Aynsley Pears rarely being extended despite Forest dominating possession. Daniel Ayala and Dael Fry led the line superbly at centre-half, shackling the dangerous Lewis Grabban from first minute to last, and Woodgate’s team selection once again ensured his side were able to withstand a fair amount of pressure without ever looking seriously extended.

They are still without an away win this season, but a tally of four points from their last two matches represents a more than acceptable return given the hurdles that have been placed in their way. Display similar determination and organisation for the remainder of the season, and they will not go far wrong.

They achieved last night’s result with five academy products in their starting line-up, with Marcus Tavernier initially pushed forward to partner Ashley Fletcher in the absence of Assombalonga. Tavernier tried to support his fellow forward whenever possible, but his instinct was to drop off in search of possession and by the midway point of the first half he had been repositioned on the left of midfield. As a result, there were long periods where Fletcher found himself an extremely isolated figure.

Unsurprisingly, Boro’s ability to threaten the Forest goal was hampered as a result, although with Hayden Coulson and Djed Spence pushing forward in their wing-back roles, the visitors were not completely devoid of an attacking outlet.

Indeed, for all that they spent most of the night camped in their defensive third, Boro actually created the best opportunity of the first half.

Coulson delivered an inviting whipped cross after breaking down the left, and while Fletcher had to angle himself awkwardly with the ball marginally behind him, he fashioned a decent header that was saved by Brice Samba.

That was really that in terms of Boro’s first-half attacking, save for a hopeful long-range effort from Jonny Howson that fizzed well wide of the target, but while Woodgate would have hoped for more of a cutting edge from his side, he would have been delighted with what was happening at the other end of the field.

For all the talk of youth and inexperience, Boro lined up with a back three of Ayala, Fry and Jonny Howson, protected by a central-midfield three of McNair, Adam Clayton and George Saville. Most Championship teams would take that as a core to build from.

Forest’s attempts to play through the middle of the field were frustrated at every turn for the opening hour, and while right-back Matty Cash saw plenty of the ball, Boro’s central defenders dealt with his crosses with a minimum of fuss.

Ayala was superb, with his commitment exemplified by the ninth-minute header that saw him clear Tiago Silva’s corner from inside his own six-yard box despite a flurry of boots flying around his face.

Aynsley Pears claimed a 14th-minute curler from Joe Lolley, but the interval arrived without the Boro goalkeeper having been seriously tested. Indeed, his best moment of the first half came when he did nothing, with his decision to stay on his feet as Grabban went round him proving justified when the former Sunderland striker was forced so wide he was unable to get a shot away. Had Pears dived in, he might well have conceded a penalty.

Boro’s 21-year-old shot-stopper had to do something at the start of the second half, and he was up to task, getting down well to parry Sammy Amoebi’s shot after the former Boro loanee controlled a long ball adeptly before firing in a shot from the left-hand side of the box.

Boro still threatened sporadically on the break throughout the second half, with the returning McNair straining to get further up the field. The Northern Irishman displayed a lovely piece of skill to beat Robinson in the early stages of the second period, and after cutting infield from the right, he drilled in a fierce shot that Samba did well to beat away at his near post.

Boro came within inches of falling behind moments later when they struggled to clear a corner, with Yates seizing on a loose ball close to the edge of the area and hammering in a half-volley that cannoned into the turf before thudding against the crossbar with Pears beaten.

That was a good effort from Yates, but the midfielder was to produce an even better one five minutes later. Cash swung over an inviting cross from the right, and Yates eased himself ahead of Howson before powering home a header from ten yards. It was a fine finish, but given the quality of their defending to that point, it was a disappointingly simple goal for Boro to give away.

Having conceded so sloppily, it would have been easy for the visitors to have slipped tamely out of the game. To their credit, however, they regrouped and battled their way back into the game.

McNair found himself in a decent position after breaking upfield, but while Tavernier’s blocked shot deflected invitingly into his path, he sliced a clumsy shot well wide.

The visitors were probing effectively though, and they got their reward with nine minutes left. McNair’s through ball released Johnson onto the wrong side of Robinson, and as he panicked to try to regain his position, the Forest full-back brought down the Boro substitute. McNair stepped up, and slotted home his third goal of the season from the penalty spot.