Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis was left disappointed by last night’s home Sky Bet Championship defeat to nine-man Wolves.
First-half goals from Helder Costa and Ivan Cavaleiro enabled the visitors to claim their first win on Teesside since 1951.
But it was their spirited rearguard action, following the dismissals of Ruben Neves and Matt Doherty, as the hosts tried to mount a late revival that was most impressive.
Wolves’ eight remaining outfield players threw themselves into a series of tackles and blocks, and the euphoric reaction of the visiting bench at the final whistle – despite conceding a consolation goal to Patrick Bamford late on – underlined just how much the final result meant.
They are now just three wins away from promotion.
Boro remain in the final play-off position, but only on goal difference ahead of their Monday trip to lowly Burton.
While Pulis was happy with the way Boro retained their composure, he was disappointed they lacked the clinical edge required to exploit their numerical advantage.
The Boro manager said: “When they got the player sent off, we needed to score a goal early because the momentum then would have carried us through.
“But the opportunities and chances didn’t really come, partly through a bit of good fortune on their part and partly because of a bit of poor quality from us at times. It just wasn’t enough.
“It was a difficult game for the referee for all sorts of reasons, not just the challenges. Stuart (Attwell) has done what he’s seen, he’s a top referee, and he’s managed it and run it the way he’s seen it.
“With nine men, you can still put people behind the ball and make it difficult. We just needed that little bit of quality. We needed someone just to do something a little bit special.
“Patrick (Bamford) had a great chance, from a great ball through, but he fell over the pass. If he had taken that forward and finished, then it would have given us more time. We wanted that goal to come earlier.”
Wolves led on 32 minutes. Costa’s initial shot was well saved by Darren Randolph, but when Barry Douglas stood up an intelligent cross to the back post, the Portuguese forward was on hand to score.
It was 2-0 when Randolph did well to keep out Willy Boly’s header, but could only watch as Cavaleiro nodded home the rebound from a yard out.
Bamford volleyed home Adama Traore’s through ball for the reply in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo said: “The first half, there was only one team on the pitch. We showed we’re better than Middlesbrough and things changed because we had two men less.
“That’s why we celebrated like that, it was important for our fans too.
“I’m talking about the situation of Helder. It was a bad decision of the referee, then the players lose control of their emotions.
“Everything went crazy but we won.
“The players lose the focus, starting worrying about the referee and approaching the game in a different way.
“What I saw was a decision that changed the game and caused my players – and Middlesbrough’s players – to lose control.
“I think it’s the job of the referee to try and talk to them and calm them and explain to them.
“After that if you just turn your back and start whistling, players get frustrated. My players are used to dialogue.
“We’re not an aggressive team with so many cards, we’re not that kind of team (but) we should be more in control of our emotions, it’s important.”
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton (Cranie 70), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton (Assombalonga 70), Leadbitter (Howson 63), Besic, Traore, Bamford, Downing. Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Fry, Harrison, Baker. Booked: Leadbitter, Shotton, Cranie. Goal: Bamford 90
Wolves: Ruddy, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Doherty, Saiss, Neves, Douglas, Helder Costa (Gibbs-White 84), Afobe (Bonatini 63), Cavaleiro (N’Diaye 58). Subs not used: Batth, Ruben Vinagre, Hause, Norris. Sent Off: Neves (56), Doherty (71). Booked: Ruddy, Doherty, Neves, Saiss, Bennett. Goals: Helder Costa 32, Cavaleiro 37
Ref: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)