MIDDLESBROUGH can apply a tick next to the first of seven tasks.
Beating Wigan Athletic was the first challenge for Boro to conquer as they eye promotion to the Premier League.
Boro were sluggish, nervous even, but ultimately did what mattered. They won.REPORTER CHRIS BELL
It took Boro top with Aitor Karanka’s side retaining pole position after the evening matches, ended in draws, Ipswich 1 Bournemouth 1 and Derby 2 Watford 2.
There remains six massive matches for the Teessiders until the season comes to a climax, at home to Brighton & Hove Albion on May 2.
They will hope for similar outcomes to that of yesterday’s encounter against the Latics, even if the performance was devoid of creativity and vigour.
Boro were sluggish, nervous even, but ultimately did what mattered. They won.
Performances at this stage of the season are secondary to the primary objective of winning.
Wigan, five points adrift of safety with just six games left, had numerous chances to restore parity in a second half that saw Boro rarely threaten their opponents.
Boro were thankful that they were playing such a poor side that justified their residence in the bottom three.
The pressure and tension was noticeable in Boro’s play but mentality is one thing that you cannot criticise Boro for.
They have not lost back-to-back games all season and at a wet Riverside they erased the memories of their Bournemouth flop of two weeks ago.
Boro’s star man was goalscorer Patrick Bamford.
The striker was not at his scintillating best but the blond-haired ace is so talented that he needn’t be accelerating up the gears to be a force.
He was intelligent, drifting into space that found him the ball and permitted strike partner Jelle Vossen greater room to manoeuvre himself.
In the 20th minute he located a pocket of grass that he decided would be where he would create his latest art piece.
Dimi Konstantopoulos dropped a Wigan free-kick and was fortunate that the visitors didn’t capitalise. From the clanger Adam Clayton broke with pace.
In replica of countless other Boro goals this campaign, red poured forward and their opponents became static.
Albert Adomah slid the ball into Bamford who dropped away from the box, took a touch onto his right boot and curled a deflected shot beyond Ali Al-Habsi.
His finish netted him his 15th league goal of the season, the highest number of goals a Boro player has found in a league season in 18 years.
The on-loan Chelsea striker stroked a shot from similar territory towards the bottom corner minutes after but the Wigan stopper was alert to prevent a second.
Wigan struggled to respond to going behind. They were devoid of creativity and never looked like testing the resilience of Ben Gibson and Jonathan Woodgate, the latter of whom was exceptional in clearing away every ball that was pumped his way.
Adomah hit a bouncing volley from a Vossen pass into the side-netting after the interval, before Vossen was played in on goal via a Bamford flick but Harry Maguire outmuscled the Belgian forward.
On the hour mark the visitors finally tested their attacking armoury.
The result? It needed multiple training sessions in how to be clinical in order to penetrate Konstantopoulos’s shield.
Half-time sub Marc-Antoine Fortune was smartly denied by the Greek netminder’s hands with a low arcing shot, before Jermaine Pennant and James Perch both hopelessly shot wide in good positions.
Al-Habsi tipped a Bamford shot wide of the post in 77th minute but it was Wigan who were racking up the shots tally, James McClean the next to squander from close range when he fluffed a volley.
Lee Tomlin could have doubled Boro’s lead in the final minute when he ran clear of the Wigan defence but his shot was deflected wide.
It wasn’t aesthetically pleasing but Boro will take another half-a-dozen of them results between now and the season’s climax.