Middlesbrough got back to winning ways with a much-needed victory at Reading - and without the influence of one key player.
Stewart Downing, 34, wasn't even on the bench during the 1-0 win at the Madejski Stadium, which Boro won 1-0 courtesy of George Friend's 77th-minute winner.
Downing had missed just one league game for Tony Pulis' side before Saturday's Championship fixture, but the winger's absence from the matchday squad wasn't due to an injury - as manager Tony Pulis explained.
“I wanted to give Stew a rest,” said Pulis, whose side will now face Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich and Derby in quick succession.
“He's started most of the games so with two home games Stewart's a very very important player for us at home. The two home games coming up we'll need Stew.”
Boro are back up to fourth in the Championship following their first league win for four games.
The Teessiders were booed off the pitch by some supporters following their Carabao Cup defeat to Burton on Tuesday night, and Pulis was delighted with how his side responded.
“It's a welcome win,” added Pulis. “We were very disappointed with the last two performances against QPR and Burton but they've shown a lot of character today and I think we deserved to win.”
Boro also kept their first clean sheet since the 2-0 win over Wigan on November 10.
And after watching his side concede at least one goal in their last six games, Pulis was relieved to record another shutout.
“I think we got away from that a little bit,” said Pulis. “I think we were so desperately keen to score more goals and create more chances.
“But we looked more solid today and we created good chances as well.”
Ahead of a busy festive fixture list, Pulis was a little concerned after Ryan Shotton limped off with a knee injury.
The full-back was replaced by Paddy McNair and it's unclear wheather Shotton will be available for the Boxing Day clash against Sheffield Wednesday.
“We're a little bit concerned about Shots with his knee," added Pulis. "We are just hoping it's a little bit of a knock, there's no swelling there so we've got to make sure that's fine and we hope it will be okay.”
Reading caretaker manager Scott Marshall believed his side were unlucky not to get something from the game and felt the Royals had a strong appeal for a penalty, after the ball appeared to hit Friend on the hand late on.
“We had a couple of good moments in the second half," said Marshall. "We certainly had a couple of appeals for a couple penalties and a few strikes on goal and maybe you get one of those.
“There was certainly enough appeals to suggest there’s something in that. I’ve not seen anything back yet but I’d certainly like to have another look."