Harsh penalty sends Town on way to defeat at Riverside
Darren Randolph twice denied Town with big saves as Blues went down at the Riverside.
The Republic of Ireland international kept out a header from Trevoh Chalobah and then blocked Freddie Sears’ close range effort right on half-time.
Jordan Hugill gave Boro the lead from the penalty spot after Jordan Spence looked to be harshly penalised and substitute Marcus Tavernier extended their advantage on 72 minutes to keep the home side right in the promotion mix.
Town made three changes to the side that went down at QPR on Boxing Day, Myles Kenlock coming in for his first start of the season, with Kayden Jackson and Gwion Edwards returning to the line-up.
Kenlock was immediately in the action, diverting Lewis Wing’s cross behind for a corner, Pennington first to George Saville’s delivery to end the initial early threat.
Stewart Downing was just over with a left foot effort from the edge of the box, then a clever ball from Kenlock found Sears in space, the striker spinning and testing Randolph from the angle.
George Friend fired over as Boro searched for a breakthrough, Hugill wayward from inside of the box after Downing had driven forward, then Randolph was forced to tip Luke Chambers’ header over the bar.
Randolph did superbly to claw away Chalobah's header from the corner as Town began to create openings, Jordan Spence high and wide from distance after Flynn Downes had set him up.
Hugill volleyed over after Town failed to clear a free-kick, Dean Gerken saving comfortably from Saville before Boro were handed a penalty on 36 minutes, Spence judged to have fouled Hugill. The striker did the rest from the spot.
Aden Flint was at full stretch to clear from Edwards’ cross as Town looked to bounce back immediately and it needed another terrific save from Randolph to deny Sears an equaliser right on half-time after Jon Nolan’s intelligent pass.
Chambers twice inside the opening minutes of the second-half showed all his experience to see out the danger from first Downing and then Hugill, Saville firing over as Boro started on the front foot.
The skipper in the right place again to clear from Wing, Hugill denied at the near post from Wing’s cross, then Gerken palming away Hugill’s strike as Boro pressed for a second goal.
Downing made way for Tavernier on the hour in the game’s first change, the substitute immediately booked for a foul on Spence.
Nolan and Sears combined, the former West Ham man cutting inside but his cross was cleared, from the break, Hugill had too much on his cross, then Edwards did well to prevent Friend getting in.
Jordan Roberts replaced Jackson for the closing 20 minutes but the substitute hardly had time to enter the game before Blues were two down, Tavernier sliding the ball low past Gerken after a break.
Mo Besic’ pace took him into space down the right and Hugill was inches away from converting his cross, Andre Dozzell then replacing Nolan in Town’s second change.
Gerken held on from Hugill’s header, Pennington doing well to rob Hugill as a third looked on, with Friend and Saville both thwarted by the Town ‘keeper.
Gerken produced a fantastic save to keep out Hugill’s header with the last action of the game as Boro finished the more likely to add to the scoreline.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Friend, Ayala (Batth 90), Hugill, Howson, Downing (Tavernier 60), Fry, Saville, Flint, Wing, Besic (Clayton 84). Subs not used: Lonergan, Assombalonga, McNair, Gestede. Booked: Tavernier.
Town: Gerken, Spence, Pennington, Chambers, Kenlock, Edwards, Chalobah, Nolan (Dozzell 78), Downes, Jackson (Roberts 71) Sears. Subs not used: Bialkowski, Knudsen, Harrison, Bishop, Nsiala. Booked: Chalobah, Downes.