Town fell to a first defeat in four Championship games at Middlesbrough this afternoon, with Lee Tomlin grabbing both goals for the hosts.
A determined first-half defensive effort ensured the game was goalless at the interval despite lots of pressure from the hosts, who then scored their first just after the hour mark as the Terriers were enjoying a decent spell themselves.
Nahki Wells took the game back to the home side, hitting the post and having two good efforts saved by the goalkeeper, before Boro netted a second with the final kick of the game as Alex Smithies ventured up for a corner.
Chris Powell set his side out in the same 3-5-2 formation that had worked so well against Watford the previous weekend, but with Boro-born Jonathan Hogg restored to the line-up on his return from suspension at the expense of Oscar Gobern.
Hosts Middlesbrough came into the game on the back of four successive clean sheets and they were in the ascendancy in the early going, with Spanish striker Kike going very close to opening the scoring. In just the sixth minute he collected a pass and span past Mark Hudson in the same motion before driving at Joel Lynch and his shot from 20 yards out cannoned off Alex Smithies’ right-hand post.
Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford was next in the act four minutes later, expertly controlling a ball over the top from Grant Leadbitter before rounding Smithies. However, he shot wide from a particularly narrow angle.
Town tried to get a foothold in the game, with left wing back Jack Robinson sending a deflected shot behind for a corner, but it was Aitor Karanka’s side making the running and they had the best chance of the half in the 18th minute. A brave Conor Coady block sent Bamford’s useful-looking shot behind for a corner and when Leadbitter sent the delivery in, centre back Daniel Ayala’s near post flick-on teed the ball up perfectly for Bamford to head home. Instead, from just six yards out, his effort flicked the outside of the post and went wide.
Town’s task didn’t get any easier midway through the half when another of Boro’s Chelsea loanees, Tomas Kalas, accidentally caught James Vaughan in the head with a kick. The striker was visibly dazed and couldn’t continue, so Powell shuffled his pack – bringing on Gobern and changing the shape to a back four, with ex-Boro man Jacob Butterfield and Sean Scannell tasked with supporting Nahki Wells in attack.
The Terriers worked hard defensively in the shape of strong Boro possession and almost broke away on the hosts with eight minutes of the half remaining, only for Coady’s attempted pass to out Gobern clear being cut out by the sprawling Ben Gibson.
The final effort of the half came from former Town man Adam Clayton, who volleyed over Smithies’ bar following Gobern’s half-clearance out of the penalty area.
Lee Peltier replaced Hogg, who had needed treatment during the first-half, after the interval but Boro were back on the attack after the restart. First Tomlin fired wide after Bamford squeezed past Hudson on the dead ball line and pulled the ball back, before the same player fired over from range soon after.
Town then enjoyed their best spell of the game approaching the hour mark, with Butterfield working a neat one-two with Gobern to drive infield before firing a powerful effort wide of the Midddlesbrough’s goal.
Unfortunately Town’s resistance was broken just after the hour mark by old nemesis Tomlin. Ben Gibson’s ball out of defence found Kike in space and he in turn found Tomlin with an infield pass. Tomlin battled past a determined challenge from Coady on the edge of the box, took aim and smashed a thunderous drive past Smithies’ left hand side to give his team the lead.
Butterfield led the response, testing Konstantopoulos with a left footed dive that needed turning around the post, before Adomah forced Smithies into work with a near post effort at the other end.
Town then had a decent claim for a penalty as Wells’ cross bounced up off a defender’s leg and struck an arm, but the referee wasn’t interested.
Wells was in the middle of all the action and he had the team’s best effort of the game with just over 10 minutes left. After some good build-up play he received a pass on the right edge of Boro’s area and skipped past a defender before curling a low left-footed effort around the goalkeeper – and onto the face of the far post.
The Bermudian had another two efforts saved by Konstantopoulos; first a low right footed effort was turned around the post before his half volley from the resulting corner was pushed away.
Town panicked the home side in the four minutes of added time as they forced a succession of corners, even having one back header cleared off the line by Leadbitter, but with Smithies forward in the final seconds Boro broke clear – leaving Tomlin with the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net.
Town’s team (3-5-2):
Alex Smithies; Joel Lynch, Mark Hudson (c), Tommy Smith; Jack Robinson (Joe Lolley, 81), Jacob Butterfield, Conor Coady, Jonathan Hogg (Lee Peltier, 46), Sean Scannell; James Vaughan (Oscar Gobern, 24), Nahki Wells
Lloyd Allinson, Paul Dixon, Philip Billing, Radoslaw Majewski
Lee Peltier (81)