Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka praised his side’s defensive qualities as his side ground out a 1-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday win to go back to the top of the Championship.
Cristhian Stuani’s strike after just 44 seconds proved decisive and sent Boro back to the top of the league.
Everyone has to attack and defend and we had 11 defenders on the pitch in the last five minutesAitor Karanka
Boro held on to record their seventh consecutive clean sheet in the league - and their eighth straight shut-out at home which equals a club record - to frustrate an in-form Wednesday side, who pegged Boro back for much of the second half.
“We’re in a really good position,” said Karanka.
“Because we’re really good at home, which is the key. It’s important to win at home and to show everyone how difficult it is to score against us and how consistent we are. It’s important for the team that we keep this run going.
“When teams are conceding goals, people look at the defenders or the keeper, but today I look at the team.
“Everyone has to attack and defend and we had 11 defenders on the pitch in the last five minutes.”
It was Boro who got off to a breathtaking start, however, taking the lead after just 44 seconds.
Albert Adomah played in Stewart Downing on the left and his delivery was met perfectly by Stuani, who side-footed past Joe Wildsmith.
And the rampant home side almost doubled their lead two minutes later when Stuani played in Emilio Nsue with a clever header, the former Mallorca midfielder cutting inside before his shot was deflected over the bar.
Stuani was in the thick of it again in the 15th minute after George Friend whipped in a dangerous ball from the left, but the Uruguayan’s header was straight at Wildsmith.
Wednesday made two changes at half-time, with Daniel Pudil and Fernando Forestieri coming on for Sam Hutchinson and Jose Semedo.
And it seemed to do the trick early on as the Owls looked a lot stronger in the opening period of the second half, pressurising Boro for the first time in the game.
Barry Bannan tried his luck with a long-range effort in the 58th minute but Dimi Konstantopoulos was behind it.
There was a big chance for the visitors five minutes later when the ball dropped inside the box for Forestieri, but he was denied from close range and Boro scrambled it clear.
The league leaders then counter-attacked and substitute Diego Fabbrini should have done better with Downing in space on the left, but Jeremy Helan did well to get back and dispossess the Italian.
Wednesday pressed at the other end in the 74th minute when Forestieri’s shot from the edge of the box was blocked and Rhoys Wiggins saw his rebound fly over the bar.
Boro were under pressure again in the 81st minute and Daniel Ayala did well to head off the line before Adam Clayton cleared the second ball.
The Owls continued to pressure Boro but the Teessiders held on to go two points clear at the top of the Championship with a game in hand.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue (Amorebieta 89), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Leadbitter, Stuani, Downing, Adomah (Fabbrini 62), Kike (Kalas 73). Subs Not Used: De Pena, Mejias, Forshaw, Zuculini. Booked: Clayton. Goals: Stuani 1.
Sheff Wed: Wildsmith, Palmer, Hutchinson (Pudil 46), Loovens, Wiggins, Semedo (Forestieri 46), Sougou, Lee, Bannan, Helan (Nuhiu 68), Lucas Joao. Subs Not Used: Sasso, Hunt, Wallace, Price. Booked: Palmer, Bannan, Lucas Joao, Loovens.
Att: 29,363 Ref: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).