Middlesbrough 1-0 Rotherham United: Boro beat basement boys to keep pace with frontrunners
Stewart Downing's goal proved the winner for Middlesbrough against Rotherham - image via @Boro

Middlesbrough came out on top of a drab encounter with Rotherham United to keep pace with the teams at the top of the Championship table on Tuesday night at the Riverside.

A goal just after the quarter of an hour mark from England man Stewart Downing was enough to settle the affair, leaving Boro with three successive wins in the league.

The match continues a darker tale for the Millers, however, with Neil Redfearn's men remaining firmly rooted to the bottom of the table with just nine points from their first 15 league games.

Bright Boro start capped by Downing goal

Given their respective league positions, it came as no surprise to see the home side start the brightest in the first fifteen minutes.

Boro full-backs George Friend and Emilio Nsue especially were stretching the visitors' defence and it seemed only a matter of time before the hosts took the lead.

With sixteen minutes of the game played, Downing capitalised on a mistake within the visiting defence to bomb forward and calmly stroke the ball across the goalkeeper and inside the far post with his left foot to open the scoring.

After captaining the side in the absence of skipper Grant Leadbitter in a 3-0 win over Charlton Athletic on Saturday, it was a fitting way for the former Liverpool man to mark his 400th career appearance in the league.

De Pena strikes the crossbar soon after

It could have been two and likely game over shortly after as David Nugent crossed but Uruguayan winger Carlos De Pena shuddered the crossbar with his header as his search for a first Boro goal continued.

Though the hosts continued to dominate the game and monopolize possession of the ball, the early goal seemed to take some of the punch out of the match as the tempo slowed and chances became harder to come by.

Albert Adomah and De Pena each miscued their finishes after good crosses, blazing over the bar when well placed to score, but at half time there remained just the single goal in it.

Visitors threaten but result rarely in doubt

The teams came out unchanged for the second 45 but Rotherham fired a warning shot across the bows of the Boro side with a chance soon after the interval.

A fairly innocuous-looking set piece caused some panic as a corner kick almost made its way through a crowd of bodies for defender Danny Collins to steer towards goal, but it was hacked away at the last moment.

The Millers were looking more dangerous in the second half but the next chance came to Boro and once again it was the diminutive De Pena on the end of a cross, this time heading clear over the bar from Downing's lofted ball from the left.

Bowery wastes Millers' best chance

The visitors should probably have equalised with less than 20 minutes to play as Fernando Amorebieta hesitated on the ball at the back and allowed second-half substitute Jordan Bowery to sieze possession. However, the on-loan Aston Villa man lost his nerve and skewed his effort wide of goal with Rotherham's best chance of the night.

Barely a minute later, Boro could have wrapped the game up at the other end as Friend gallopped forward down the left before blasting a shot against the near post which rebounded away to safety.

Substitute Diego Fabbrini and earlier scorer Downing both had chances to wrap the game up in the closing minutes, but Rotherham failed to truly threaten again and the home side claimed a deserved, if not thoroughly convincing, three points.

Job done for Boro, trouble for Rotherham

With star centre-back Daniel Ayala rested and both Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton managing to avoid their fifth bookings of the season, the result represents a successful one for Boro ahead of their crunch clash with table-topping Hull City this weekend.

Yet, while Rotherham's performance was better than during their recent defeat to Derby County, their problems at the other end of the table continue with the gap between themselves and safety now standing at five points.