Youngsters cheer Zola

Gianfranco Zola has paid tribute to Jack Collison and Freddie Sears for their performances in the 1-1 draw away to Middlesbrough.

"I am really pleased with Sears and Collison," said the manager. "They were really good. It was a tough match even for experienced players. They didn't look like young players and that is a big compliment. Some of the players played really well, especially the young ones." To underline his strong pool of homegrown talent, the manager also had fit-again defender James Tomkins on the bench along with winger Kyel Reid.

Collison, already a full Wales international, was making his first start of the season under the new manager and very nearly got a late winner. As he showed in his frequent reserve-team run-outs, he is well used to making driving runs into the box and twice went close at the Riverside. "I can't complain," Zola said about his chances spurned. "He's played very well."

With two home games to come, the manager believed the away draw after four defeats "may turn out to be a huge point for us". He added: "I thought in the end we were going to get a victory but we were unlucky. You know some details are costing us very much; but I am pleased because it was not an easy game for us.

"We were coming in from four defeats and playing a team that has been playing well over the past couple of games. The players were really very good and at the end of the day I am disappointed for them because they deserved more but on the other hand I am very pleased with how they played."

Hayden Mullins had put the visitors on their way with a 21st-minute volley but a late Mido free-kick dashed hopes of the victory. Zola said he would review the way the equaliser seemed to go through the wall. "Sometimes these things can happen, we will take a look at it to prevent these things from happening but maybe we should have taken our opportunities when they came because that is the key.

"You can't concede goals like that away from home so maybe we should have done better on a couple of occasions but I have no complaints. The players were fantastic. Considering the personnel I had at my disposal it made sense to play 4-4-2. That was the best way and on the pitch it proved right.

"[The change from the 4-3-3 formation] worked very well. I don't stick to a formation because I like it in particular. I play a system that I believe is the best way to play for that team. [Middlesbrough] was a different story because I had loads of players missing so I had to change it because I thought it was the right way."