Middlesbrough 1 Hull City 0: Boro back on track as Tigers are hit by late strike

Hull City manager Steve Bruce rues a missed chance.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce rues a missed chance.
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DOCKED just yards from one end of Middlesbrough’s Riverside home is a giant, rusting hulk of a ship, its weather-beaten look suggesting the next destination from the Tees is the scrapheap.

For much of the past month, the automatic promotion hopes of Middlesbrough and Hull City have appeared to be heading the same way.

Middlesbrough's David Nugent (top) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team-mate Adam Clayton. Picture: PA.

Middlesbrough's David Nugent (top) celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game with team-mate Adam Clayton. Picture: PA.

Last night was an opportunity to not only draw a line in the sand behind that recent rotten form but also reclaim both second place and control of their own destiny in the race for the Premier League.

Boro, eventually, did just that, though they left it late with a tight contest having moved into the 91st minute before David Nugent broke the deadlock to ensure a happy ending for Aitor Karanka on his first game back following that brief AWOL spell.

A fallout with the dressing room has been touted as the reason for the Spaniard’s temporary absence but there could be no questioning Boro’s attitude last night.

Nor Hull’s for that matter, with Steve Bruce’s men not deserving such a heartbreaking end to proceedings.

Up until Nugent’s late winner, the Tigers had, if anything, been the better of the two teams. Certainly in defence, they had looked resolute and disciplined with Curtis Davies, in particular, snuffing out the threat of Jordan Rhodes to such an extent that the £9m January signing could have few complaints when substituted early in the final quarter.

What that exit did, of course, was pave the way for Nugent to enter the fray, a move that ultimately shattered City’s hopes of chalking up a 19th clean sheet of this Championship season.

Boro did make it 19 shutouts of their own from 37 games and the defensive stinginess of these two sides was undoubtedly a factor in why chances were at such a premium in the all-Yorkshire clash.

This was particularly the case in the first half, when just a couple of openings were fashioned despite the two combatants showing plenty of attacking intent.

The first – and best – of those came in the 14th minute, Christhian Stuani rising highest inside the six-yard box to power a header goalwards from a Grant Leadbitter corner that Andrew Robertson had to clear off the line.

City also had a good opportunity of their own, a swift break from deep seeing Mohamed Diame release Sam Clucas down the left flank.

He whipped in a cross that just evaded Sone Aluko in the middle but found Robert Snodgrass, who could perhaps have taken a touch rather than attempting a first-time shot that flew into the side-netting.

Those two openings apart, the story of the first half was decent approach play followed by excellent defending to prevent an effort on goal.

Davies, in particular, proved an insurmountable barrier to the Boro frontline as, time and again, Rhodes saw a brief sight of goal snuffed out by the defender.

The role of Tom Huddlestone, operating deeper than normal, in frustrating Boro cannot be overstated.

He really was quite exceptional and certainly didn’t deserve to finish on the losing side.

Hull started the second half on top, as Snodgrass headed wide from Sam Clucas cross before Diame wriggled through on the left only to then see his cross diverted into the hands of Dimi Konstantopoulos.

The Boro goalkeeper was again called into action shortly before the hour when he had to tip a curled effort from Aluko over the crossbar. City wasted an excellent opening shortly after that save when Aluko could have released either Snodgrass or Diame but chose to try and find a way through himself only to be predictably crowded out.

Aluko’s selfishness almost cost the Tigers dear as, from the resulting break, the ball was played into Rhodes but Davies did enough to put the former Huddersfield Town striker off.

Hull then had an excellent couple of chances to snatch all three points but, after substitute Abel Hernandez’s shot had been deflected into the path of Ahmed Elmohamady, the Egyptian could only shoot wildly over the crossbar.

Then, Robertson had a neat exchange of passes with Hernandez on the edge of the area before his header goalwards was easily saved by Konstantopoulos.

Boro’s instant reply was to release Nugent but Dawson quickly got across to force his shot behind.

That seemed to be that but, just as the fourth official indicated there would be a minimum two minutes stoppage time, the hosts launched one last attack as Adomah swung over a deep cross that Nugent steered past Allan McGregor.

It was enough to condemn the Tigers to a 16th defeat in 18 visits to Middlesbrough, a run that stretches back to 1986. Just what damage it inflicts on City’s own promotion hopes remains to be seen.

Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos; Nsue, Kalas, Gibson, Friend; Stuani (Downing 61), Clayton, Leadbitter, Adomah; Ramirez (Forshaw 90); Rhodes (Nugent 71). Unused substitutes: Agazzi, De Laet, De Sart, Fry.

Hull City: McGregor; Odubajo, Dawson, Davies, Robertson; Snodgrass (Elmohamady 78), Huddlestone, Livermore, Clucas; Diame, Aluko (Hernandez 73). Unused substitutes: Jakupovic, Bruce, Maguire, Akpom, Diomande.

Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).