Boro flirt with disaster but cling to slim hope of survival

Middlesbrough 3 Hull City 1
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An afternoon of surprises at the Riverside, most notably that the Premier League's most out of form sides should prove a positive result after both appeared to have lost the ability to win, culminated in Middlesbrough breathing fresh life into what had previously appeared a futile attempt to stave-off relegation.

This fixture could still take place under the auspices of the Championship next season after Hull, now with a single league victory in 16 attempts, were drawn further into the mire by only Middlesbrough's second win in 20 games.

It was one which they just about merited, but were unable to further embellish until the death in a second-half low on chances and high on tension, David Wheater's goal-line clearance from Manucho's header after the forward out-jumped goalkeeper Brad Jones to Sam Ricketts' centre preventing the visitors levelling for a second time late on.

"We knew one win could change things and an unbelievable amount of work this week went into that result," Gareth Southgate, the Middlesbrough manager, revealed. "Having looked out of it, we're back in the relegation fight now.

"We had to be men today and stand up to answer questions we've posed internally and ones that have been asked externally. It was a crucial win and the players deserved it because we stood up to most things that were thrown at us."

The understandably nervy second-period proved in stark contrast to a gung-ho opening period as both sides belied the importance of the contest with a display of inhibited football.

That Southgate, not a man knowingly guilty of hyperbole, should place this pseudo North-East derby in the category of must-win for his side betrayed the level of desperation reached by the hosts, who could hardly have dared for a better start as they took a third minute lead.

Kamil Zayatte's attempted clearance on halfway was blocked by Marlon King, the ricochet releasing an unmarked Afonso Alves into the area. The Brazilian's angled drive was parried by Matt Duke, but not with sufficient power to prevent Tuncay Sanli, following up, to find the net with his seventh goal of the season from a diminishing angle.

Parity was restored within six minutes. Nicky Barmby's cross from the right should have been met with a routine clearance, but Manucho showed double the resolve of his supposed markers to make the ball his own and level matters with a confident header.

Hull asserted a tightening grip on a breathless encounter which thankfully failed to live down to pre-match predictions of a cagey, colourless relegation scrap. Geovanni saw a decent long-range effort deflected narrowly over, and when Manucho, following-up to blaze a shot wastefully across the face of goal after Jones blocked from Craig Fagan a share of the spoils appeared a bare minimum of the visitors' ambitions.

Perversely,, it was Middlesbrough who restored their advantage on the half-hour through the unlikely figure of Matthew Bates.

The corner with which the makeshift midfielder notched his first goal for the club on his 49th appearance wasn't without controversy, Hull captain Ian Ashbee earning a caution for his protests that Tuncay applied the final touch before the ball rolled out.

Arguments about the award aside, City's marking at Stewart Downing's far from threatening set-piece bordered on the farcical, allowing Bates time and space to stick out a foot to divert the ball home from six yards. "He wasn't supposed to be there," Southgate revealed. " But we'll let him off."

Downing curled a free-kick narrowly wide straight after the break and was only denied at the death by a strong-handed save from Duke, despite Middlesbrough increasingly opting for the 'have and hold' approach.

It did nothing for the shredded nerves of their supporters, especially when Hull substitute Dean Marney's header was deflected narrowly over, but ultimately it proved successful. King, the former Hull striker, settled the outcome in the final minute, breaking through to comfortably beat a stranded Duke after a mistake by City's ex-Boro midfielder George Boateng.

"We cut our own throats to a large extent," Phil Brown, the Hull manager, admitted. "Boro responded better to the pressure than us and we gifted them three points."