Huddersfield Town win battle of hearts and minds but Middlesbrough need results fast

The contents of their boots is the main factor in determining which teams slug it out for the Championship play-offs but what is between their ears and beneath rib cages goes a very long way to deciding who finishes where.

It is why Huddersfield Town’s season will run beyond May 7 and Middlesbrough – well, who knows?

Killjoys with calculators can say the Terriers have not booked a play-off place yet but with an eight-point cushion thanks to yesterday’s 2-0 victory, they will.

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Meanwhile Boro suffered a third straight defeat at the previously impregnable Riverside. They are ninth, three points behind sixth-placed Sheffield United with a game in hand, but no momentum or confidence.

Huddersfield Town's Jordan Rhodes scores to make it 2-0 against Middlesbrough at Riverside Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty Images

Town have both because they know when they encounter obstacles, they can find a way.

These are special moments for them. When coach Carlos Corberan asked his press officer how many points Huddersfield had the instinctive response was 43, not 73. After recent seasons, it was probably habit.

“I think the result gets decided in our changing room from an organisation point of view,” argued Chris Wilder but Corberan was as quick to point to his team’s spirit.

For 40 minutes the game was fairly uneventful but a Terriers team down to their fourth-choice centre-back and missing their only specialist centre-forward with more than one goal this season hung in until fill-in centre-back Naby Sarr and stand-in striker Jordan Rhodes netted.

Huddersfield Town's Jonathan Hogg celebrates at full time after beating Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty Images

They then had to throw bodies in the line of fire – not just Tom Lees but Pipa, far from the most defensive defender – but neither side seemed to believe Boro would score and when Riley McGree’s late curler hit the frame of the goal, they were proved right.

Wilder blamed Boro’s doziness at a 41st-minute free-kick for defeat but there was a scruffiness epitomised by Sol Bamba and a lack of confidence too.

You could feel Andraz Sporar’s hesitancy shortly after half-time with the ball at his feet and a goal to run at. He overhit a pass to McGree and when the ball went back to Marc Bola, he underhit his.

What stuck most in Wilder’s mind was the opening goal.

Middlesbrough's Sol Bamba and Huddersfield Town's Jordan Rhodes battle for the ball at the Riverside Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty Images

“They get it through our bad organisation,” he argued. “Huddersfield will say it’s a decent ball in, a decent header and they’re very strong on set plays. We obviously notified the players, which they decided not to take any notice of.”

Sorba Thomas, who did not re-emerge for the second half after some rough treatment, clipped it deep, Rhodes headed across and Sarr nodded his second goal in less than 45 minutes of football – when fasting in Ramadan too.

It felt like Boro panicked too early. Bringing on Josh Coburn for Bamba was logical but they played as if there were four minutes to go, not 34. As well as being good at set-pieces, Huddersfield are good counter-attackers.

They showed as much just before Coburn went on. Rhodes played substitute Josh Koroma through for a one-on-one Luke Daniels won to add to his save from Rhodes’s first-half indirect free-kick when the goalkeeper had little choice but to catch Bamba’s hospital backpass above his head.

Middlesbrough manager Chris Wilder (left) and Huddersfield Town manager Carlos Corberan ponder their next move at the Riverside Stadium. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA

On 61 minutes, Lewis O’Brien played Rhodes in. On his fourth Championship start this season the former Boro striker scored his second goal and first ever at the Riverside. Game over.

“Maybe with our inexperience you start chasing it, we did against Hull,” said Wilder. “You just need to keep your shape, keep doing the right things and work your way back into the game.

“The first goal just gives them a little more resolve to defend a bit tighter, break on us and grab the opportunity to get a second.”

Resolve was not something Huddersfield needed help with.

“It would be impossible to win a game like that without a lot of strong mentality,” said Corberan.

“I saw a lot in defence and counter-attacking situations, and a resilience when we didn’t have the ball.”

Huddersfield Town's players and staff celebrate at full time after beating Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt/Getty Images

If the game showed what Huddersfield were about, so did the reaction to the final whistle.

Corberan hid down the tunnel as his players went to the away fans and celebrated together.

“As a footballer one of the things you can win is special moments that give value to the hard work and sacrifices,” he said.

The only concern was that Thomas was on crutches, his knee in a brace. He can take three games to heal, just not four.

Wilder left Boro fans uneasy too by again refusing to bat away talk of replacing Sean Dyche.

They would have loved a few soothing words of reassurance but what they need more is a reassuring result – and quickly.

Middlesbrough: Daniels; Dijksteel, Bamba (Coburn 56), McNair; Jones, Tavernier, Howson, McGree, Bola; Sporar (Balogun 61), Watmore (Connolly 78). Unused substitutes: Lumley, Taylor, Peltier, Siliki.

Huddersfield Town: Nicholls; Turton, Lees, Sarr; Pipa, Russell, Hogg, O’Brien, Toffolo (Ruffels 80); Thomas (Koroma 46); Rhodes (High 90). Unused substitutes: Anjorin, Blackman, Holmes, Sinani.

Referee: D England (Doncaster)