Middlesbrough 1 Wigan 0: Aliadière strike leaves Wigan in danger zone

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The Independent Football

How Middlesbrough must wish they could play teams managed by Steve Bruce every week. Twice in five months the Wigan manager has brought teams to Teesside, and on both occasions they have been soundly beaten.

Bruce had little hesitation in using a four-letter expletive to describe his Birmingham City side's performance when they "escaped" with a 2-0 defeat here in August. And there was no doubt some similarly industrial language employed in the visitors dressing room after Wigan succumbed to the most comprehensive of single-goal defeats imaginable.

Middlesbrough, stretched their New Year revival to a fifth game unbeaten as they launched their post-Jonathan Woodgate era with a clean sheet and a deserved win thanks to Jeremie Aliadiere's second goal in 18 starts this season.

However, a failure to reflect their dominance in goals left them at peril of the sucker punch, one which almost arrived 12 minutes from the end as Wigan staged a rally which resulted in Mark Schwarzer beating out Emile Heskey's powerful header.

Marlon King was hauled off after a tortuous 52 minutes of his Wigan debut following his £5m arrival from Watford, but the forward was not alone in enduring a forgettable evening. Bruce once lifted the Premier League trophy for Manchester United at the Riverside, but he admitted: "Since then it's not been a happy hunting ground. We were lucky to escape in the first half and I couldn't wait to change things round."

By then the damage had been done, as Middlesbrough impressed in front of a directors' box boasting new England head coach Fabio Capello and Afonso Alves, the Brazilian forward who is set to complete a £13m move from Heerenven in the next 24 hours.

On 19 minutes Wigan unwisely backed off when Aliadière took Stewart Downing's ball down the left channel. The Frenchman made full use of the space afforded him to beat Kirkland at the near post with an angled drive.

Downing's agent has voiced his client's displeasure at the improved terms on offer from the club as the parties thrash out a new contract, insisting negotiations are at an end and the player will see out the remainder of the contract before moving on.

"We'd prefer to conduct our negotiations in private," Gareth Southgate said. "I know it's been frustrating for Stewart but he's a big part of our future."

Goal: Aliadière (19) 1-0.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Young, Huth, Wheater, Grounds; O'Neil, Rochemback, Arca, Downing (Cattermole 88); Sanli (Mido 34), Aliadière (Johnson 72). Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Riggott.

Wigan Athletic (4-4-2) Kirkland; Melchiot, Scharner, Bramble Kilbane; Valencia, Brown, Palacios, Heskey; Bent (Sibierski 75), King (Koumas 53). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Taylor, Boyce.

Referee: R Styles (Waterlooville).

Booked: Wigan Heskey.

Man of the match: Downing.

Attendance: 22,963.

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