MIDDLESBROUGH moved back to the top of the Championship after beating Wigan Athletic 1-0 at the Riverside.
Boro were far from convincing against the relegation-threatened Latics who remain five points adrift of safety, but Patrick Bamford’s 20th-minute goal in the first half made sure of a home win.
Aitor Karanka made two changes from his side that was beaten 3-0 at Bournemouth a fortnight ago, Tomas Kalas relieved from central defence duties after his horror show with the Czech defender taking up the right-back berth and Jonathan Woodgate partnering Ben Gibson. Bamford was joined up front by Jelle Vossen.
Wigan struggled to get the ball out of their box in the eighth minute, Vossen having a shot blocked by Harry Maguire and Albert Adomah first disposing Gaeten Bong of the ball as he tried to clear and then drilling an unmet cross along the six-yard line.
After a turgid opening 20 minutes Boro opened the scoring. From a Wigan free-kick, that Leon Clarke almost exploited Dimi Konstantopoulos’s mistake of dropping the ball when coming out to collect it, the hosts broke rapidly through Adam Clayton.
Adomah squared it to BAMFORD who was lurking on the outside of the box. He touched the ball onto his right foot and curled it via a deflection into the left of the goal.
Two minutes after Adam Reach neatly passed to Bamford who in a similar position stroked the ball towards the bottom left corner but Ali Al-Habsi palmed it away for a corner.
On the cusp of half-time Clayton struck a wicked shot through a crowded box that was blocked by Jason Pearce’s foot.
Soon after the interval Vossen had a chance to double Boro’s lead from an acute angle but the pass from Adomah had too much bounce on it for a clean hit.
Konstantopoulos made a smart save to deny Marc-Antoine Fortune a leveller in the 61st minute, the Frenchman receiving a deep pass from Maguire and arcing a right-footed shot towards goal.
Jermaine Pennant then wasted a great chance seconds before he was subbed when he fell over shooting from just ten yards as Wigan grew in confidence and hope of a goal.
James Perch shot hopelessly wide from distance while up the other end sub Lee Tomlin got a deft touch to a Kalas cross but it wasn’t enough to trouble Al-Habsi.
Konstantopoulos held a low Fortune shot and then collected a cross under pressure from Martin Waghorn as the Latics pressed forward but without conviction.
Al-Habsi tipped a Bamford shot wide of the post in the 77th minute before the Chelsea loanee almost reached Adam Reach’s teasing pass before the Wigan stopper did.
James McClean was the next player in yellow to squander a chance, fluffing a volley when Kim Bo-Kyung played a lofted pass into the unmarked striker’s feet.
Wigan’s attacking surge waned and Lee Tomlin had the chance to cap off Boro’s win in the final minute when he ran from the halfway line into a one-man Wigan defence but his shot was deflected wide.
Boro: Konstantopoulos, Kalas, Woodgate, Gibson, Friend; Adomah, Clayton, Leadbitter, Reach; Vossen (Tomlin, 67), Bamford (Kike, 88).
Subs not used: Ripley, Whitehead, Amorebieta, Tiendalli, Forshaw
Wigan: Al-Habsi, Boyce, Maguire, Pearce, Bong; Pennant (Kvist, 65), Perch, Bo-Kyung, Murphy (Fortune, 46); McClean, Clarke (Waghorn, 61)
Subs not used: Carson, McCann, Ojo, Barnett
Att: 23,082 (457 Wigan)