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“WE SCORED a goal!” Middlesbrough fans chanted after Britt Assombalonga dealt the decisive bow in their clash with Hull City at the Riverside Stadium, telling manager Tony Pulis everything he needed to know about their recent run of form.
Both sides came into the game outside the play-offs, where Boro had been sitting comfortably before a dismal run of form. Assombalonga made the difference, but he missed a number of other opportunities, while Hull had chances and were denied by goal-line technology late on.
Pulis hopes the win can be the catalyst for a positive end to the season after they lifted themselves to just a point outside the top six.
“[There are] lots of twists and turns to come,” he said.
“You need a little bit of good fortune, you need a little bit of luck and we need to play well and I think we’ve played well without getting the results.
“If a second goal goes in we can relax a little bit and they have to chase it and we can play through the pitch a lot quicker and a lot smoother because the space will be there.”
Boro took the lead on 25 minutes through Assombalonga, who bundled Ashley Fletcher’s cross into the empty net after his strike partner was played in by Ryan Shotton.
George Saville almost scored two minutes later, while Hull were sensing an opportunity to test the home side’s nervy defence. Todd Kane drove into the box and found Jarrod Bowen, but the visitors’ top scorer’s effort was blocked by Daniel Ayala.
Nine minutes before the break, Saville forced David Marshall into a great save with a low free-kick. Half time didn’t arrive before the hosts squandered two chances though; first Fletcher blazed over from close range before Assombalonga smashed against the bar.
The second half started with Hull pressing high and threatening again. Fraizer Campbell failed to divert a cross goalwards with a diving header before Bowen, who had mostly been on the periphery until then, went through and almost dinked the ball over the onrushing Darren Randolph.
Play was delayed for some time as Ayala received oxygen and was stretchered off after falling awkwardly on his leg. He was replaced by Adam Clayton.
When it restarted, it seemed as though Boro did too, creating and missing another gilt-edged chance. Marshall thwarted them again, stopping Jonny Howson from point-blank range. Astonishingly, Assombalonga then opted to square the ball one-on-one as the home faithful grew in frustration.
With 13 minutes of normal time remaining, the Tigers almost pounced. A goalmouth scramble ensued from a corner, and it almost resulted in substitute Chris Martin flicking the ball into the top corner, but John Obi Mikel cleared off the line.
Another huge chance then went begging for Hull, and for Campbell, but he couldn’t connect with Jackson Irvine’s cross. Calls for a penalty were waved away by referee Robert Jones after a challenge on him by Howson.
Lengthy stoppage-time was added and again Assombalonga failed to make absolutely sure with a curling effort, which went just wide. Grosicki thought he had grabbed a point when his free-kick hit the post and almost crossed the line, but Jones’s watch didn’t buzz.
Nigel Adkins couldn’t believe his side didn’t head back to Humberside with all three points.
“How have we not won the game? We played well for 20 minutes in the first half and we had good opportunities in the first half, loads of opportunities in the second half.
“I can’t fault the players, we have had a go, kept going forward, we were adventurous going forward.”
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