Middlesbrough vs Luton Town. Sky Bet Championship.
Report and free match highlights from the Sky Bet Championship clash between Middlesbrough and Luton Town at the Riverside Stadium as a Paddy McNair penalty and a late goal from Duncan Watmore steered Boro to victory.
Saturday 5 March 2022 18:38, UK
Middlesbrough made it eight home wins in a row in the league for the first time since 1998 by beating Luton 2-1 at the Riverside.
The latest victory for Chris Wilder's team lifted them above Luton and into the Sky Bet Championship's play-off zone once again.
It was a tough battle on Teesside in which neither side really got going but Paddy McNair's fifth goal of the season in the 17th minute from the penalty spot paved the way for the victory.
Substitute Duncan Watmore prevented a nervy finish when he wrapped up the points with three minutes left by scoring his sixth of the campaign - although Harry Cornick pulled one back for Luton in the sixth minute of added time.
Just days after the Riverside created a special atmosphere to help Boro reach the sixth round of the FA Cup by beating Tottenham, Wilder made two changes to his attack. Aaron Connolly and Folarin Balogun were recalled ahead of Watmore and Andraz Sporar - and both players started well.
However, the Hatters - with only two defeats in their previous 13 league games - were well aware of the significance of this one too, with just two points separating the teams before kick-off.
After a slow start, Luton found themselves chasing the game when Reece Burke tripped Balogun in the area after he controlled Isaiah Jones' ball.
McNair calmly sent goalkeeper Alex Palmer the wrong way from 12 yards with a neatly side-footed penalty into the bottom corner.
A few minutes later the goalscorer led the protests to officials when Cameron Jerome appeared to plant his high studs into Anfernee Dijksteel's groin area. The striker was cautioned by referee Jeremy Simpson.
Jerome almost levelled things soon after half an hour too, when he stretched to turn a delivery into the centre of the Middlesbrough goal where Joe Lumley was on hand to stop.
Other than that there was very little for either side to shout about before the break.
Luton showed more attacking threat immediately after the restart and would have equalised had Lumley not thwarted Elijah Adebayo twice after he was played in by Jerome's clever flick.
But Henri Lansbury's late challenge on Jones, which earned a caution, in front of the dugouts brought a lift from the home crowd and the men in red shirts.
With 19 minutes to go Middlesbrough's coach Leo Percovich was cautioned for his part in some pushing and shoving by both sets of players following Jones' attempts to get the ball from Amari'i Bell on the floor.
That was followed by a brilliant overhead kick from Connolly soon after which flew at Palmer from 20 yards.
Just when it seemed there would be no more goals, Watmore was played in down the right. He cut inside Burke after his cross was blocked and Palmer failed to prevent the effort finding the inside of his near post.
Luton attempted to stage something of a comeback in seven minutes of added time when substitute Cornick was allowed to convert from Adebayo's low delivery. Time, though, ran out for the visitors.
Middlesbrough's Chris Wilder: "It was a different type of performance from us, it was an arm-wrestle. I said after 10-15 minutes it was going to be about the result and we needed to show different qualities to get over the line. From a defensive point of view we did deal with what Luton served up but from a football view it was scrappy, it was an arm-wrestle, turgid. The first goal came from a great bit of play.
"I was disappointed we had a couple of chances before half-time, and Luton came back at us after that with nothing to lose. It became that sort of afternoon, so we had to get over the line by hook or by crook and we did that. Luton were on a fabulous run and they are up there for a reason, they have structure and win games of football. It became lively, tasty, with moans and groans from each bench. Nathan (Jones) might have moans about a couple of situations and I could moan about a couple of situations too. It was getting the result and squeezing over the line and we have."
Luton's Nathan Jones: "First half there was very little in the game, we didn't defend one situation well enough and conceded. Then it became a scrappy game, tried to generate enough but there was no flow.
"We had some chances second half and had we taken those we might have seen a change. I am disappointed with our first half performance and then massively frustrated with how the game pans out. We had the best chances. Second half we tried to generate as much fluency as we could, but we just didn't take one of those. It was disjointed and that can be Championship games, it is just what it can turn into."