An Adama Traore double helped Middlesbrough close the gap to the play-offs as Tony Pulis won his first league game at the Riverside since taking charge of the Teessiders.
The pacey winger struck twice either side of half-time as Boro recorded a much-needed 2-1 victory over Reading in the Championship.
The visitors set up a tense finish when Chris Martin pulled one back with 12 minutes to go, but Boro hung on despite substitute Britt Assombalonga missing a penalty.
Boro hadn’t even scored a goal at home in the league under Pulis before the match, but this result could revitalise their promotion aspirations.
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Gestede keeps his place
Pulis made just one change to the side which lost at Norwich a week ago, with Jonny Howson replacing Adam Clayton in midfield.
Rudy Gestede’s first-half red card at Carrow Road cost Boro dearly, but the Benin international kept his place upfront – at the expense of top scorer Britt Assombalonga - after his three-match ban was overturned.
Gestede had scored just one league goal before kick-off but should have fancied his chances against a depleted Reading defence.
The Royals lost centre-back Tommy Elphick, who is on loan from Aston Villa, to a knee injury against Millwall last weekend, prompting Stam to revert to a back four.
Further forward Modou Barrow and Yann Kermorgant made way, as Liam Kelly, Garath McCleary and Sone Aluko came in for the visitors.
The Reading strikers were starved of service for most of the first half, as Boro applied some early pressure with a couple of long throw-ins into the visitors’ box.
They were nearly rewarded in the ninth minute, when Ryan Shotton’s throw was headed towards goal by Gestede, forcing Reading goalkeeper Vito Mannone to tip the ball over his crossbar.
The game settled down after that, with both sides briefly cancelling each other out in a congested midfield.
On 18 minutes the game opened up, though, and Kelly should have at least hit the target when he was set up by McCleary following a neat passing move from the visitors.
At the other end, Stewart Downing came within inches of opening the scoring when he volleyed wide from Gestede’s chipped cross.
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Traore makes the difference
As the half wore on Boro found more success by switching the ball to Traore on the right flank, and in the 30th minute the speedy winger burst past Aluko before sending a low cross into the area, which was cleared by Chris Gunter.
Boro notched up the pressure before half-time, as Downing’s corner was palmed away by Mannone.
Then, with the interval looming, the hosts made the crucial break through, when Traore cut inside of Bacuna on the right before hammering a powerful shot past Mannone at his near post. The Reading keeper got a hand to it but couldn’t keep it out.
Mannone could do nothing about Traore’s second goal four minutes after the restart, when the Boro winger charged down the right unchallenged, before lashing the ball into the far corner of Mannone’s net
Patrick Bamford could have made it three in the 55th minute but dragged a close-range effort wide following Grant Leadbitter’s pass.
The Boro captain almost registered on scoresheet himself, when he drilled a low free-kick into the post.
Reading set up nervy finish
Stam threw on Kermorgant and Martin from the bench in a desperate attempt to salvage something from the game, and the latter pulled one back 12 minutes from time when his low effort from the edge of the area found the bottom corner.
Boro could have made life more comfortable for themselves when Traore won a penalty five minutes from time but Assombalonga fired over from the spot.
That set up a nervy finish, but the hosts held on to claim a valuable three points.