Stewart Downing marked his return to the Middlesbrough side with stunning strike to send his side through to the fifth round of the FA Cup at the expense of League Two outfit Accrington Stanley.
The Boro winger, who was linked with a move away from the club at the start of the month, scored the only goal of the game as Aitor Karanka’s side eventually broke down a resolute Accrington side - 20th in the fourth-tier - at the Riverside.
After a series of chances, most of which were blocked by Accrington defenders, Downing produced a moment of quality in the second half which his side were crying out for all afternoon.
His goal spares Boro a troublesome reply away from home, which could have been detrimental to their league campaign.
Seven changes for Boro
Karanka made seven changes from the side which started Boro’s 3-1 league defeat against West Ham last time out.
Goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopulos was handed his first start of the season, so too were January signings Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede.
The visitors, who last reached the fourth round seven years ago, made two alterations from their 1-1 draw against Carlisle in League Two. Their top scorer Billy Kee kept his place upfront.
Just nine minutes had elapsed when Karanka was forced into an early reshuffle. George Friend fell to the floor clutching his hamstring and before long Boro’s first-choice left-back was replaced by Dael Fry.
Fry slotted straight in at centre back which meant Ben Gibson was moved over to the left side of defence.
Frustrating first-half for the hosts
The hosts monopolised possession but it was a free kick which provided their first real opportunity after 18 minutes.
Downing whipped the ball into the Accrington box from a position to the right of the penalty area and the ball was flicked on for Viktor Fischer, whose sliding effort trickled wide of the post.
The lively Dane was involved again moments later when he cut inside from the left only to see his shot blocked by defender Mark Hughes.
There was no question that Accrington were up for the occasion. They showed it with some feisty challenges, one of which saw captain Seamus Conneely receive the first booking of the match.
As the half wore on Boro began to find success down the right where Bamford and Fabio were taking it in turns to charge past full-back Harvey Rodgers.
On 33 minutes Gestede poked the ball wide following Bamford’s cutback from the left and Boro's frustration grew.
Bamford then had a chance of his own when he was released through on goal by Downing, however Boro’s newest signing rolled his shot inches wide.
Accrington created a rare chance seven minutes before the break when Sean Clare wriggled his way into the penalty area from the left, however he was thwarted by the alert Konstantopulos.
Boro picked up where they left off after the interval, as Fischer and Bamford saw their efforts deflect wide of Accrington defenders.
Downing breaks the deadlock
Eventually the breakthrough came 20 minutes from time, as Downing found space on the edge of the area before unleashing a thumping strike into the top corner of the net.
In the final five minutes Boro were almost caught out when the ball dropped to Kee inside the area, however the forward couldn’t make sufficient contact and the ball which rolled into the hands of Konstantopulos.
Boro could have doubled their lead in stoppage time when Gestede found substitute Cristhian Stuani, however the Uruguayan was denied by keeper Marek Rodak.
The visitors also went close but Jordan Clark fired a volley straight at Konstantopulos.