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Fulham 0-2 Middlesbrough Cham 34 1516 - The Northern Echo

last updated Monday 29th February 2016, 10:16 AM

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Paul Fraser at The Northern Echo

Fulham (0) 0-2 (2) Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough made it two wins from two to give their chances of climbing back into the Championship's automatic promotion places a boost after an impressive start did the damage at Craven Cottage.

Despite losing four of their last five matches at Fulham, Boro never looked like suffering another defeat from the moment Albert Adomah nodded them in front in the third minute.

And when Grant Leadbitter, erasing the memory of the midweek miss from 12 yards, converted a penalty 17 minutes later it was effectively job done there and then despite a couple of scary moments at the end of the first half.

Middlesbrough, after this routine 2-0 win, are now level with second-placed Hull City on points and still have two games in hand on them after recovering from the five match winless run which had threatened to derail their season. Hull's failure to beat Sheffield Wednesday on Friday night opened the door for Burnley - who are now leading the way courtesy of beating Bolton 2-1 - and Middlesbrough to dethrone them at the top of the Championship.

But Middlesbrough were keen to erase the memories of April, having suffered a dramatic 4-3 defeat at the Cottage which effectively ended the hopes of automatic promotion.

There was also the Ross McCormack factor to consider too, knowing full well that he was the subject of strong interest from Middlesbrough during the last transfer window and he signed a new contract with Fulham earlier this week.

In truth, though, this was not a good day for McCormack, who didn't even threaten the visitors' goal, while Middlesbrough showed their quality at the other end long before Fulham defender Richard Stearman was sent off with four minutes remaining for bringing down Jordan Rhodes.

The man who Karanka - supported in west London by close friend Jose Mourinho - ended up with instead, £9m man Rhodes, was left out and he had to start on the bench, with David Nugent the man to lead the attack just days after scoring as substitute in the much-needed win over Cardiff.

And the confidence built up from that win, despite leaving out Rhodes, George Friend and Tomas Kalas, was evident immediately when Middlesbrough took the lead.

Stewart Downing showed exactly why he is being played down the left with a run and cross beyond a slow Stearman. The centre was perfect for Adomah, unmarked at the back post, to rise and head into the top corner from just outside the six yard box.

There was an even greater boost 17 minutes later too when Downing's pass into Nugent, who many wanted to see left out to accommodate Rhodes, and he was tripped by Chris Baird.

Leadbitter, just days after missing a penalty against Cardiff, rolled a finish inside Andy Lonergan's bottom right corner when the keeper dived the wrong way.

It was the daylight required to give Middlesbrough the boost to keep going and they almost had a third when Downing turned a cross into the area inches wide of the post.

But Fulham could have pulled one back before the break. After Dimi Konstantopoulos had tipped Moussa Dembele's overhead kick over the bar for a corner, the Cottagers claimed a goal seconds later.

Michael Madl's header at the back post had the keeper beaten but Ritchie de Laet got across to clear from under the bar. Fulham's players celebrated a goal but de Laet did enough. Either way it did not count.

After the restart Middlesbrough took control again, but the performance of teenager Dael Fry again - who made one outstanding block to thwart Tottenham target Moussa Dembele - alongside Ben Gibson helped lay the foundations.

And Downing would have had a goal himself just after the hour when Adomah's run and pass appeared to put his fellow winger in; somehow midfielder Scott Parker got back to clear.

Middlesbrough rarely tested the goal after that, although Fulham never looked like closing the gap particularly when Stearman followed up his awful first touch by lunging into Rhodes near half way and the red card came out as the last man.

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