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Boro close in on top two after taming Tigers
MILLER TIME: Middlesbrough goalscorer Ishmael Miller wheels away after netting the second goal of the evening
Final Score: Middlesbrough 2 Hull City 0
THE Riverside Stadium was a Friend-ly place last night when Tony Mowbray warmed up for his two-year anniversary as Middlesbrough manager with a third successive win.
After a bright opening half hour failed to find the vital breakthrough there were fears Boro would let things slip late on as they did in their previous two home dates with Derby and Leicester City.
But then George Friend was on hand to help end the goalscoring droughts of two of his team-mates to lift Middlesbrough in third spot ahead of Saturday's visit of Bolton Wanderers.
Even when Faris Haroun – with his first goal since December last year - coolly slotted Middlesbrough ahead just before the hour there was a need for a second.
And the extra daylight arrived when Ishmael Miller, on a season long loan from Nottingham Forest, forced his first goal in more than a year over the line to seal the points.
It was the ideal way for Mowbray to hit Friday's second anniversary, knowing a fourth consecutive victory could see them hit the Championship's top spot on Saturday night.
After the early vibrancy in Middlesbrough's play, Hull did start to threaten more as the first half wore on.
But overall the opening period was one in which Mowbray's tactical tinkering should have earned the lead before the break.
Middlesbrough looked to young winger Adam Reach to provide a threat on the right of a four-man midfield and, initially anyway, it worked.
After Hull striker Aaron McLean had driven wide at one end, the 19-year-old's willingness to run at his markers caused Andy Dawson problems.
With a preference to use his left foot he was also adept at cutting inside and from one of those runs he created the space to force goalkeeper Ben Amos in to a save at his near post.
The shot-stopper on loan from Manchester United had a busy opening half an hour. And after making a fine save from Andre Bikey's eight-yard downward header, he was fortunate on a couple of occasions when he spilled two distance strikes from Grant Leadbitter.
The stand-in skipper's drives looked routine enough to stop, but Amos' failure to hold them confidently could have been capitalised on. In the first one there was no Middlesbrough man following up, but from the second he had to make an instinctive save to deny Miller from the rebound.
Leadbitter's influence was a factor. When he got on the ball Middlesbrough tended to play more fluently and he was equally prominent defensively.
When McClean threaded a fantastic through pass behind the Middlesbrough defence it looked as if Nick Proschwitz would be clean through on goal. Somehow, though, Leadbitter's slide and tackle went unpunished and he came away with the ball.
It could easily have ended in a free-kick for Hull on another night – perhaps even a professional foul and red card – but referee Paul Tierney just felt it was a stunning stop.
Leadbitter, forming an effective central midfield pairing with Josh McEachran, was also the man taking the dead balls for Middlesbrough and from a couple of corners Amos was tested.
When Hull started to gain more of the possession in the attacking third, Middlesbrough needed their latest defensive combination to stand firm.
The absence of Jonathan Woodgate, protected from playing three games inside a week, meant Seb Hines sat alongside Bikey at the heart of the defence, with Stuart Parnaby and Friend providing the width.
That was the ninth different back four picked by Mowbray this season, but they quickly gelled in keeping the ineffective Proschwitz and lively McClean at bay.
The strength of Middlesbrough's defending was always likely to prove crucial and when they thwarted a Hull attack and counter-attacked it looked like the overdue opener was going to arrive shortly after half-time.
From another Leadbitter corner, Hines' header across goal was nodded against the crossbar by Friend. Hull's frantic defending then did its job before Miller turned his own header over at the back post.
The only other change from the team that defeated Brighton on Saturday was Miller's introduction at the expense of Scott McDonald. Mowbray is likely to have been considering introducing the Aussie just when the break through finally arrived.
With the hour mark approaching, Hull threatened with a corner. After getting it half cleared, Reach was blocked as he rolled the ball down the line and the referee played things on.
Hull were stretched and Friend's clever run and through ball was perfect for Haroun to round Amos and give Middlesbrough the lead much of their play deserved.
Middlesbrough have conceded late in their last two home games so an extra goal was crucial. Once McDonald was introduced, he had an immediate hand in the second seven minutes after the opener.
Friend was involved again. His shot was well saved by Amos and McDonald's first touch was an acrobatic volley which was also blocked by the keeper only for Miller to force over the line.
The relief across his face was clear, as he charged down to the corner flag to celebrate, but the relief was also reflected among the supporters who enjoyed the remaining 24 minutes.
The 14,000-plus fans would have enjoyed it even more had McDonald or Marvin Emnes capped things off in the closing stages. But things are looking up for Mowbray's men.