JONATHAN WOODGATE claims his Middlesbrough players “laid down a marker” as they overhauled a second-half deficit to claim a 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest.

The Teessiders found themselves trailing after Ryan Yates powered in a 63rd-minute header, but with Woodgate’s decision to abandon his five-man defence in order to revert to a flat back four enhancing his side’s attacking threat, they gradually clawed their way back into the game.

Their persistence was rewarded when Jack Robinson brought down substitute Marvin Johnson with nine minutes left, and Paddy McNair stepped up to successfully equalise from the penalty spot.

The result leaves Middlesbrough four points clear of the relegation zone, and highlights the strength of the spirit within Woodgate’s patched-up squad.

“I think it lays down a marker, but we’ve actually been pretty good in a number of away games this season,” said the Boro head coach, who will be back on the road when he takes his side to Swansea City on Saturday. “We got a point at Luton on the opening day, got a point at Bristol City and got a point and should have won at QPR.

“We’ve got a point here, and they’re all valuable points. The character of the team is there for all to see. A lot was said about the Leeds defeat, but they’ve come back from that well and shown the kind of intensity and will to get in the box that we want. I thought they wanted to try to create chances, they were very good.”

As was the case in their weekend win over Charlton Athletic, Boro once again fielded an extremely young line-up with five academy products in the starting line-up and a further four on the bench.

Djed Spence and Hayden Coulson once again performed creditably in their wing-back berths, and Boro’s youngsters were cheered to the hilt as they acknowledged the club’s travelling supporters after the final whistle.

For all the difficulties Woodgate has encountered this season, he has built on Boro’s proud record of blooding their academy products, and his faith in his young players has helped engender a strong sense of purpose and identity.

“I’m really pleased for the young lads who are playing and stepping up to the mark,” he said. “Coulson, Spence, (Marcus) Tavernier, (Dael) Fry, (Stephen) Walker comes on, and you’ve got (Tyrone) O’Neill, (Nathan) Wood, (Ben) Liddle on the bench. They’re all young kids and they’re all getting opportunities.

“We’re trying to create an identity here, but the young players have to take their chance and they’re doing that. Djed Spence, took his chance. Hayden Coulson, took his chance. Marcus Tavernier, took his chance. When Stephen Walker has come on in the last couple of games, he’s been doing well.

“When these players get their opportunity they need to take it. I’ve shown that I won’t automatically play an older player over a youngster. If an academy lad is playing better, he will stay in the team. But I won’t play young lads for the sake of it. If they’re not doing it, they’ll be out. It’s really simple.”

Boro’s youngsters have been hogging the headlines, but for the second game in a row, the more experienced triumvirate of Daniel Ayala, Dael Fry and Jonny Howson performed superbly in defence.

“We went to a four in the second half, but the defenders were good right the way through and they’ll give you everything,” said Woodgate. “Jonny Howson gives me everything, he’s one of those players you can rely on, along with Ayala and Fry. Coulson is getting like that too, and that’s what you need when you come to places like this. You need your men in there. You have to turn up, if you don’t you’ll get done, but we did that tonight.”

Britt Assombalonga was absent after damaging his ankle in Saturday’s win over Charlton, and the striker is also expected to miss the trip to Swansea’s Liberty Stadium. However, Boro’s medical staff remain hopeful he will not be sidelined for a lengthy spell.

“We’re not sure yet about Britt,” said Woodgate. “We’ll find out in the next 48 hours, but he will be touch and go for Swansea. Let’s see. Will it be long term? I hope not. I really hope not because he’s a big player for us.

“Lewis Wing could be in contention for Saturday maybe, let’s see how he is. Let’s see how he trains in the next 72 hours.”