Middlesbrough moved back into the top half of the Championship with a much-needed 2-0 victory over Reading at the Madejski Stadium.
Grant Leadbitter’s first half penalty put the visitors in control before a Britt Assombalonga header 16 minutes from time ended Boro’s five-match winless run.
The result heaps more pressure on Royals boss Jaap Stam, whose side have now won any of their last eight league games and sit two points above the relegation zone.
Despite dominating possession, the hosts registered just two shots on target as Boro produced a gritty and resilient display away from home.
Garry Monk’s side have looked brittle at the back in recent weeks but that wasn’t the case here.
The win moves the Teessiders up to 11th in the Championship table - just two points off the final play-off position.
Tavernier earns first league start
Monk made one change from Boro’s last league game - a 1-0 defeat to Cardiff City. It saw Ashley Fletcher replaced by teenager Marcus Tavernier.
The 18-year-old winger scored his first Boro goal in their Carabao Cup defeat to Bournemouth on Tuesday, but this was his first start in the league.
Following Reading’s 2-1 loss to Sheffield United last time out, Stam made four alterations to his team selection.
Captain Paul McShane returned from a hamstring injury, while Liam Kelly, John Swift and teenager Sam Smith all came into the side.
Boro quick out of the traps
Boro had conceded first in eight of their previous 13 league games, a statistic that emphasizes a tendency to start matches slowly.
That wasn’t the case here, however, and with just 14 minutes on the clock, Monk’s men had taken the lead.
Cyrus Christie made an early foray forward down the right and the full-back’s teasing cross was nodded down by defender Liam Moore, straight into the path of Assombalonga.
The Boro forward was subsequently bundled to the floor by Joey van den Berg, prompting referee Oliver Langford to point to the spot.
Leadbitter dispatched the penalty emphatically, high into the top right corner of Vito Mannone’s goal.
The hosts suffered an early injury blow on 28 minutes when Moore and Tiago Ilori clashed heads.
After receiving treatment, Ilori was forced to leave the field before being replaced by Tyler Blackett.
Reading continued to pass and probe as the first half wore on, however they rarely tested Boro keeper Darren Randolph.
Assombalonga seals the win
Boro remained disciplined while posing a threat on the break, and the visitors took their chance with 16 minutes to go.
Jonny Howson retrieved a loose ball on the right before clipping it into the box, where Assombalonga powerfully headed home.
Monk’s side had chances to extend their lead in the closing stages, but Mannone denied both Daniel Ayala and substitute Marvin Johnson in the final 10 minutes.
Sone Aluko almost set up a nervy finish with two minutes remaining, but his speculative volley from the edge of the penalty area was turned behind by Randolph.