Middlesbrough took a step closer to securing a play-off place as they beat fellow promotion hopefuls Derby County at Pride Park.
Goals from Muhamed Besic and Britt Assombalonga either side of half-time meant David Nugent’s late penalty for the Rams was merely a consolation goal.
Traoré too good for Derby
Derby had the first chance of the game when a floated Tom Lawrence corner was met by a Bradley Johnson diving header which went just wide. But it was the visitors who looked the most dangerous in the early stages, with Adama Traoré seeing a lot of the ball early on down the right.
Derby did not take heed of the early warning signs and on 18 minutes Boro’s star man created the opening goal. Craig Forsyth attempted to stop his marauding run down the wing with a slide tackle but the former Barcelona youngster was the first to his feet and regained possession. He continued his run and played a low cross across the Derby box, finding Besic on the edge of the area. The Boro midfielder was composed as he danced inside the on-rushing Derby defenders and Scott Carson could only palm his shot into the top left corner.
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Derby search for an equaliser
Derby by no means looked out of the game and saw a lot of the ball in Middlesbrough’s final third, but opportunities in front goal came few and far between. Derby’s best effort of the half came on 35 minutes when Lawrence’s low drive from the edge of the box was well saved by Darren Randolph.
After the break, Derby looked lively and Andre Wisdom did well to cut inside and play a neat through ball to Nugent. The former Boro man found the angle too acute and could only find the side netting from close range.
Middlesbrough push for a second goal
But it wasn’t long before Derby were on the back foot once more and they came very to conceding a second goal on the hour mark. Again, it was Traoré who threatened as he carried the ball 40 yards before finding Jonny Howson unmarked on the right of Derby’s box. Howson took a touch inside but his shot skimmed the crossbar. Less than a minute later and Derby had another let off as Besic’s shot from a similar range went just over.
It wasn’t long before the visitors made their dominance count as Assombalonga found the back of the net from close range on 70 minutes. A long ball found Traoré on the right, who shrugged off Forsyth and played a one-two with Howson, unlocking the Derby defence. Traoré found himself in space in the box and slid a low ball across the 6-yard box to Assombalonga who couldn’t miss.
Derby looked more dangerous after three second half changes which saw Kasey Palmer, Andreas Weimann and Jamie Hanson introduced. Lawrence saw his curling shot tipped past the post by Randolph before Curtis Davies volleyed over at the near post from a corner.
Too little, too late for Derby
Derby eventually found the breakthrough in stoppage time when Daniel Ayala fouled Davies at the pack post from a Hanson corner. Nugent coolly converted the resulting spot kick, but it was too late for Derby to find an equaliser.
The defeat leaves Derby one point outside the play-offs, whilst Middlesbrough stay fifth.