Aitor Karanka tries to keep Patrick Bamford and Middlesbrough fans grounded

Middlesbrough 1 Wigan Athletic 0

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The Independent Football

Patrick Bamford further enhanced his reputation with a goal to keep Middlesbrough on course for the Premier League – and push Wigan closer to relegation.

However, Aitor Karanka, the Boro head coach, was keen to avoid praising his 16-goal striker too much after watching the rest of his team dig deep to hold on to the lead secured by Bamford’s latest strike.

The 21-year-old equalled the best league return of a Middlesbrough player in the past 18 years by hitting his 15th goal in the Championship since leaving Chelsea on loan in August.

Five of those have arrived in his last six outings and he has hit form at just the right time to keep Middlesbrough firmly in the automatic promotion picture.

Karanka said: “I know how important it is to win at this stage of the season. We did our job today and now we have three more points and one game less to go.

“The performance was not as good as everyone wanted but the main thing is to win. We have six to go and the squad is confident and we are ready for Monday.” That is when they travel to another promotion-chasing side, Watford.

“I never go into a game thinking we can draw, so we go there thinking we can beat them,” added the Boro manager of Monday’s game. “The message to the supporters is to keep calm. I said it was going to be a tight race and it will be.”

Wigan manager Malky Mackay, whose side remain five points adrift of safety after a four-match winning run on their travels came to an end, was frustrated to leave the North-east empty-handed.

“I am really disappointed we didn’t get anything out of the game, said Mackay, whose side face promotion hopefuls Derby County on Monday.

“I don’t think it’s outrageous to say we deserved something going toe to toe with one of the best teams in the division. We were terrific in the second half and we had four good chances but it is about sticking the ball in the net, which is something Wigan have had an issue with since the season’s first day.”

Wigan started brightly enough but Middlesbrough took the lead in the 20th minute when their goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos’s dropped cross actually sparked the start of a goalscoring counter-attack.

The loose ball ended up at the feet of Adam Clayton, who quickly sent Albert Adomah down the right flank. After the Ghana winger cut inside full-back Gaetan Bong, his cross was laid off by Jelle Vossen.

Bamford, lurking on the edge of the penalty box, took a touch before his right-foot shot took a kind deflection en route before nestling in the bottom right corner of goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi’s net.

Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Konstantopoulos; Kalas, Woodgate, Gibson, Friend; Adomah, Clayton, Leadbitter, Reach; Vossen (Tomlin, 67); Bamford (Kike 88). Substitutes not used Ripley (gk), Whitehead, Amorebieta, Tiendalli, Forshaw.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-1-1): Al-Habsi; Boyce, Maguire, Pearce, Bong; Pennant (Kvist 65), Perch, Kim, Murphy (Antoine-Fortune 46); Clarke (Waghorn 61); McClean. Substitutes not used Carson (gk), McCann, Ojo, Barnett.

Referee S Attwell (Warkwickshire).