Beating Brentford by a single goal at Griffin Park is becoming the norm for Middlesbrough.
Last night a comical own goal from Bees stopper David Button gave Boro all three points to extend their lead at the top of the Championship to six points, after second-placed Derby were held to a 1-1 draw by Reading.
Boro returned victorious by the slenderest of margins having not been at their best.
As per their last three visits to this corner of London, Boro returned victorious by the slenderest of margins having not been at their best and frustrated by a side who on their day are the perhaps league’s most entertaining.
Entertaining was certainly not the phrase to describe a game that was largely scrappy, hindered by the wind and slippery surface, and one where clear chances were sporadic.
Last January, Boro were dominated by the Bees but returned to Teesside 1-0 winners. Four months later they were 2-1 winners in the play-off semi final first leg, and last night they produced another performance and result that Boro are becoming known for.
Their defence remained impenetrable – despite a few edgy moments from Fernando Amorebieta who stepped in for the injured Ben Gibson – and Dimi Konstantopoulos is looking more and more like a Premier League stopper with each game.
There’s no art to Boro’s defending. It’s ugly. They head clear, the kick clear, they thump clear, they block with their torso, their thighs and their faces. All that matters is that the incoming ball is repelled.
Boro were fortunate not to receive more than the three bookings they collected, but their occasional robustness was testimony to the collective want to achieve what they didn’t last May.
Grant Leadbitter, outstanding in midfield once more, cracked the bar with an ambitious floating shot after three minutes, but it was the hosts who should have opened the scoring in the sixth and seventh minute.
Alan Judge arrowed a shot wide from 18 yards and then Lasse Vibe disposed Dani Ayala of the ball to run clear on goal, but he delayed his shot and Konstantopoulos did well to save.
David Nugent, a menacing opponent for a struggling James Tarkowski, cleverly hooked a cross into the path of Christian Stuani whose volley was saved by Button, Nugent then sending the rebound high over the stand.
Just before the break, Judge spun a shot toward the near post that Konstantopoulos saved, the Greek goalkeeper ending the half by tipping over Sam Saunders’ wind-assisted free-kick.
Maxime Colin ended a Brentford move on the right wing by forcing a neat save from Konstantopoulous, but two minutes shy of the hour mark it was Boro who inscribed the first and only change to the scoreboard.
A Leadbitter corner tempted Button out of goal. He opted to punch the ball clear, but it was caught by the wind, and boomeranged into his own net. Dani Ayala staked a plausible claim for the goal.
Brentford then came forward at will but without success.
The journeys to Brentford are proving repeatedly fruitful for Boro.
They may not go in the ‘must-watch’ archives, but the points are so welcome.
Just like how their promotion prospects fared after their two visits last season, the eventual outcome is not certain, but the goal is nearer.
Six points clear of Derby, eight points off third and a game in hand over Derby – the Premier League continues to beckon.