Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray hailed midfielder Barry Robson after the Scottish midfielder’s stunning late strike sank Hull in the npower Championship.
Robson drilled in the only goal from 30 yards three minutes from time in a game the visitors – who started the day two points behind Boro – had otherwise edged.
“It was a great strike,” said Mowbray, whose promotion-chasing side have now won four successive games. “Barry’s got that in his boots.
“He’s been great today. He’s played in three different positions and done well in all of them, then pops up with a strike like that.”
Had it not been for the goal the game would have revolved around two strong penalty shouts waved away in the first half.
The first came when Boro’s Nicky Bailey fired a ball into a crowded box and it was clearly handled by Hull full-back Andy Dawson.
Then, at the other end, Hull striker Matty Fryatt tricked his way past Boro captain Matthew Bates in the box only to be brought down by the defender as he shaped to shoot.
Hull’s appeals were waved away by referee Neil Swarbrick, much to the disgust of Tigers caretaker boss – and former Middlesbrough forward – Nick Barmby.
“For me it was a cast-iron penalty,” he said. “I thought it was clear that he had been brought down.
“I had a word with the referee at half-time and he said he thought it was just a coming together but it was one that brought our man down.”
He added: “I was disappointed with the result.
“I thought we dominated most of the first half, we were comfortable and we had the better of the chances.
“After the break Boro were better and had a bit more possession but they didn’t create much,” he said.
“So I was disappointed when they scored. I thought it was a bit of a sloppy goal to concede to be honest.
“A shot from 30 yards out shouldn’t be going in. The keeper needs to be getting to it.”
Mowbray disagreed with Barmby’s view.
“I thought it was a brilliant tackle from Bates to recover after he lost his man,” he said.
“I can see why Hull would be disappointed by that because they played well and had some good chances and have gone away empty-handed – but we all live and die by these decisions and every week there is controversy over them.
“By the same token we could easily point to a very deliberate handball by Dawson which wasn’t given.”
Both sides went into the game on the back of impressive recent records, with Boro having won their last three while the Tigers had emerged victorious in four successive league games.
The win stretched Boro’s advantage over Hull to five points, but they remain third after West Ham’s point at Birmingham City kept them second behind leaders Southampton.
Middlesbrough and Hull had won their last games – against Cardiff and Millwall respectively – and, unsurprisingly, named unchanged sides.
It was Boro who had the better of the opening exchanges as Joe Bennett and Faris Haroun combined to cause the visitors problems down the left.
Despite the hosts enjoying the majority of possession, the Tigers created the game’s first chance as Fryatt headed just wide.
Hull had another opportunity to take the lead soon after, with Aaron Mclean seeing his effort parried away by Jason Steele.
Middlesbrough, though, were still dominating proceedings, Scott McDonald forcing a save from Gulacsi after good work from Justin Hoyte.
As the half wore on, Barmby’s side were starting to show impressive adventure, epitomised by Steele having to be on high alert to turn Dawson’s effort around the post.
The second period started in much the same vein as the first as the sides battled for the initiative.
The visitors again were looking the more likelier to score, though Robert Koren could only direct into the hands of Steele after being cleverly found by Liam Rosenior.
Chances were proving increasingly few and far between, which perhaps added to the frustration as Bates was denied by Gulacsi.
But Paul McKenna was guiltier at the other end, driving horribly wide after neat work from Koren and Mclean teed him up.
Both sides appeared to be settling for a draw as full-time edged ever closer, although Gulacsi again had to be on high alert to keep out Haroun’s header.
The Tigers goalkeeper had no answer moments later, though, as Scotland international Robson fired home a brilliant strike from a tight angle.
The visitors battled valiantly thereafter, but the goal proved the ultimate sucker-punch and Boro took the points.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte, Rhys Williams, Bates, Bennett, Robson, Bailey, Arca (Zemmama 72), Haroun, McDonald, Ogbeche (Thomson 72). Unused subsitutes: McManus, Martin, McMahon.
Hull City: Gulacsi, Rosenior, Hobbs, Chester, Dawson, McKenna, Evans, Stewart (Brady 69), Koren, Fryatt, Mclean (Garcia 79). Unused substitutes: Basso, McShane, Dudgeon.
Referee: N Swarbrick (Lancashire).
Boxing Day reports, results and tables: Pages 20 & 21.