Crucial opener sends Boro on way to three points
Goals either side of the break gave Middlesbrough the points at the Riverside.
Blues had threatened twice through Martyn Waghorn in an even first-half but right on the stroke of half-time, Boro got the vital breakthrough with Martin Braithwaite finding the net from close range.
Patrick Bamford doubled the advantage on 51 minutes and Boro, just down from the Premier League, saw the game out without too many scares from there.
Town made one change from the side that beat Forest last weekend, with skipper Luke Chambers replacing Dominic Iorfa. Joe Garner started on the bench after recovering from a foot injury.
Waghorn swung in an early free-kick that Daniel Ayala cleared, then Chambers had to be equally alert to prevent Brett Assombalonga getting in on the end of Cyrus Christie’s cross.
It needed a terrific challenge from Ben Gibson to prevent what could have been an opening goal for Town on eight minutes, Adam Webster’s long range pass down the left was hooked goalwards superbly by Bersant Celina and the Boro defender did enough to prevent Waghorn converting at the near post.
Stuart Downing had a shot deflected into Bart Bialkowski’s hands, Bamford was crowded out on the edge of the box then Bialkowski was at full stretch to save from Gibson after he had got on the end of a free-kick.
Fabio couldn’t quite get his volley on target in what would have been a goal of the season contender from Downing’s crossfield pass as Town continued to hold Boro at arm’s length past the half hour mark.
Blues also continued to look lively on the break, Celina again the provider down the left, Waghorn denied by Ayala at the near post.
Assombalonga was well off radar with a left footer from 20 yards, Bialkowski off his line to save from Bamford after former Blue, Grant Leadbitter’s clever pass, then the Town ‘keeper got down well to deny Assombalonga five minutes before the break.
Waghorn had Blues’ best opening of the first-half soon after, Cole Skuse poked the ball forward after Emyr Huws’ shot had been blocked on the edge of the box but the Town striker couldn’t get his shot in.
With the frustration of the home fans beginning to grow, Boro got the breakthrough right on half-time. Downing did well to keep the play alive down the right, Town didn’t deal with the cross and Braithwaite buried the loose ball past Bialkowski.
Garner replaced Huws at the break in the game’s first change, Town forcing an early corner through Jonas Knudsen. Darren Randolph didn’t get much on his punch from Celina’s delivery but Waghorn couldn’t take advantage.
Bamford extended Boro’s lead six minutes into the second-half, cutting inside from the right and finding the bottom corner from just inside the box.
Knudsen did superbly to stop Assombalonga making it three a minute later, Bialkowski then holding firm from Christie’s wicked cross as Boro opened up.
Waghorn volleyed over as Blues looked for a lifeline before Town made a double change on the hour with Celina and Grant Ward making way for Freddie Sears and Teddy Bishop.
Assombalonga was off target with another effort, then headed over from Christie’s cross as Boro looked to wrap up the points.
Randolph saved from Garner, Bialkowski given more of a test by Braithwaite’s low drive, then Callum Connolly almost worked a chance for himself in the box.
Town kept pressing to the final whistle without really having that one gilt-edged chance to get back in the game.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Christie, Ayala, Gibson, Fabio, Leadbitter (Forshaw 90), Howson, Downing (Johnson 76), Braithwaite, Bamford (Gestede 79), Assombalonga. Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Friend, Fry, Traore. Booked: Leadbitter, Ayala.
Town: Bialkowski, Spence, Chambers, Webster, Knudsen, Ward (Bishop), Huws (Garner 46), Skuse, Connolly, Celina (Sears 60), Waghorn. Subs not used: Crowe, Kenlock, Downes, Iorfa. Booked: Celina.