Cardiff fall to 2-0 defeat away at Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough closed to within two points of the Sky Bet Championship play-off places as they claimed a much-needed 2-0 win over Cardiff.
It was a 23rd league defeat this season for Cardiff who have now lost four in a row, and the result leaves them sitting still at 19th in the league.
A first-half finish from Marcus Tavernier and deflected second-half strike from Riley McGree settled things for the Teessiders and enabled them to climb to seventh in the table.
With their remaining games seeing them host Stoke and head to Preston, Chris Wilder’s side will be confident of piling further pressure on sixth-placed Sheffield United, who round off their own season with matches against QPR and Fulham.
Boro went into the game knowing they had to win to keep any realistic hopes of securing a play-off place alive, but while they dominated possession from the outset, it took them a while to create a meaningful opportunity.
Duncan Watmore wasted a decent opening as he failed to get Marc Bola’s through ball under control after momentarily breaking clear of the Cardiff defence, so it was the 28th minute before Middlesbrough recorded their first effort on target. Crucially, they made it count.
Falorin Balogun laid Jonny Howson’s pass off to Tavernier, and after touching the ball onto his left foot, the Middlesbrough midfielder drilled a powerful 22-yard finish into the bottom right-hand corner.
The strike ended Boro’s six-and-a-half-hour goal drought at the Riverside, and was celebrated with understandable relief by the home fans.
Cardiff’s main first-half threat came courtesy of the direct running of Teessider Jordan Hugill, who had formerly played for Boro on loan, although Oliver Denham went close shortly before Tavernier broke the deadlock with a back-post header that was angled too close to goalkeeper Luke Daniels.
Cardiff’s best moment before the interval came on the stroke of half-time, but while Hugill eased himself ahead of Isaiah Jones to reach Rubin Colwill’s through ball, he swept a first-time effort over the crossbar.
It was a significant moment as Boro doubled their lead within nine minutes of the restart to secure some much-needed breathing space.
Cody Drameh gave the ball away in his own half, enabling Howson to send McGree into the right of the box.
The Australian scored his first Boro goal in last weekend’s 1-1 draw at Swansea and duly made it two in two games as he fired in a low finish that found the net via a hefty deflection off Curtis Nelson.
Cardiff almost pulled a goal back when Max Watters’ right-wing cross looped over Daniels and rebounded off the crossbar, but the home side should have put the game to bed on the hour when an unmarked McGree headed wide at the back post after Bola crossed from the left.
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