First-half goals from Martin Braithwaite and Britt Assombalonga kept Middlesbrough flying high at the top of the Championship with a 2-0 win at Bristol City.
The visitors went ahead on 13 minutes through a dreadful error by City right-back Jack Hunt. He was guilty of a miskick inside his own box that allowed Braithwaite in to slide a right-footed shot past Niki Maenpaa from 10 yards.
It was 2-0 on 32 minutes as Stewart Downing was allowed space on the right of the penalty area to produce a delicate far post cross, which begged to be headed in. Assombalonga climbed above Hunt to provide the finishing touch.
City only came to life as an attacking force in the closing stages when they struck the crossbar twice through an Eros Pisano header and a Josh Brownhill shot.
But it was too little too late from Lee Johnson’s men, who were booed off by their own fans at half-time after a tepid display.
There was plenty of neat inter-passing between City’s players, but rarely did they threaten to break down a well-organised Boro defence.
The home side’s best first half chance fell to Andreas Weimann on 23 minutes, but he fired wildly over from a good chance set up by Jamie Paterson’s cross.
By then Aden Flint, returning to Ashton Gate following his £7million summer transfer, had headed powerfully over City’s crossbar from a left-wing corner
Marlon Pack sent a free-kick too high from 25 yards for the hosts and Marley Watkins might have done better with a far post header from Brownhill’s cross.
But for most of the half Boro comfortably dealt with a series of predictable raids that lacked a killer final ball.
City looked to step up their game at the start of the second half. Pisano shot over from a narrow angle, while Paterson’s 20-yard drive brought a fine diving save from Darren Randolph.
At the other end Downing fired over from distance and George Friend was off-target with a header from a corner.
Braithwaite should have had a second goal on the hour, beating City’s offside trap only to shoot into the side-netting with just Maenpaa to beat.
Middlesbrough continued to carry the greater threat and Maenpaa did well to parry a stinging shot from Downing.
After Johnson had used all three substitutes City at last put concerted pressure on the Boro goal.
But, while the woodwork twice came to the visitors’ rescue, they were well deserving of the points.
It all made for a happy return to Ashton Gate, not only for Flint, but also Boro boss Tony Pulis, who managed City for a short spell in the late 1990s.
Pulis said: “In the first half we restricted Bristol City to very little and scored two good goals.
“Braithwaite’s anticipation for the first was the sort of thing inborn in strikers, while Stewart Downing has done brilliantly for the second in standing the ball up at the far post.
“The second half saw City with nothing to lose and they deserve a lot of credit for throwing everything at us. The have some good players and a good young coach.
“But we had four or five opportunities on the break and, with a bit more quality, we could have played better final passes to create better chances.
“A third goal and the game would have been over, so there is food for thought for me there.”