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Bubbling Boro bounce back with convincing victory
Final Score: Middlesbrough 3 Huddersfield Town 0
IT was all worthwhile for the fans who were out in the Riverside rain as Middlesbrough got their promotion push back on track with a comfortable taming of the Terriers.
The outcome over Huddersfield never looked in any doubt once Australian striker Scott McDonald had pounced in the six yard box to put Boro ahead 17 minutes before half-time.
And when the effective Emmanuel Ledesma curled in a lovely free-kick midway through the second half to increase the lead, manager Tony Mowbray could rest easy that his team would not lose for the third match in a row.
There was even time for a third with five minutes left. McDonald continued his renaissance with a tidy first touch finish to take his tally to seven goals since returning to the first team fold in October.
It was a welcome victory in front of a crowd of 21, 850 that had turned up in driving rain to make full use of the buy-one-get-one-free ticket offer for the back-to-back home games.
The first of those had ended in disappointment against Bristol City four days earlier, but last night Middlesbrough clearly intended to make up for that - and delivered by reclaiming third spot in the Championship.
Despite the heavy conditions, the Riverside surface held up to the incessant downpours which continued throughout the 90 minutes.
And without the workhorse Grant Leadbitter, serving a one-match suspension, Middlesbrough's performance was was always going to hinge on how Nicky Bailey combined with Josh McEachran in the middle.
While that particular pairing did their job, it was also clear Andy Halliday was determined to make the most of his chance.
Signed as a forward during Gordon Strachan's days in charge, he is in the process of being converted in to a full-back by Tony Mowbray.
Halliday's first input was to charge right to left and make a telling block, but his forward runs from deep with the ball gave Huddersfield plenty to think about.
One of his better ones arrived early on. He linked up neatly with McDonald, earning a free-kick when Peter Clarke tripped him as he threatened the Huddersfield box. Ledesma was not as impressive with the dead ball from 20 yards.
McDonald was one of four changes - along with Halliday, Bailey and Richie Smallwood - to the Middlesbrough team that lost in the fog on Saturday and he was close to marking his return with an even earlier goal.
When Lukas Jutkiewicz's run fell kindly for his Aussie strike partner, McDonald's first touch created some space and his second was to direct a low shot just wide of the far post from a difficult angle.
But McDonald didn't have to wait much longer for the breakthrough - and he had Justin Hoyte to thank for his sixth goal of the season.
Jutkiewicz might have supplied the cross when Paul Dixon had thwarted Hoyte's initial charge, but it was the right-back's bursting run behind the defence which got the move rolling.
Huddersfield were never able to get hold of things going forward and Middlesbrough looked more composed and in command with half-time approaching. The visitors could not have complained had Halliday increased the lead when his glanced header at the near post flew over.
Middlesbrough came even closer moments later when Clarke almost turned Jutkiewicz's cross beyond his own goalkeeper but Alex Smithies somehow dived right to turn the ball up on to the crossbar and away.
Huddersfield did have their moments. In the dying seconds of the first half Jason Steele had to be alert to tip Scott Arfield's chip towards his top corner over for a corner. Going in to the dressing room level would have been harsh on Mowbray's men.
With the rain still falling, Middlesbrough continued to look more comfortable after the restart. And Jutkiewicz, twisting and turning, should really have found the net when he was denied by Smithies at close-range following a neat through pass from McDonald.
With the exception of an incredible Steele save from Simon Church, who was offside anyway, the Middlesbrough No 1 never looked in any danger.
And if there was going to be another goal McDonald looked like being the man to deliver. He jumped up and down in frustration when his first time shot powered inches wide of the near post on the hour.
But a healthy Middlesbrough crowd finally had a second to celebrate when Ledesma, with his second attempt of the night, picked his spot with a 22-yard free-kick which Smithies could only help in to his top right corner.
The South American has really started to become a key component of the Mowbray system and he almost created a third. His perfect cross in to the box was turned goalwards by the head of Jutkiewicz and Smithies pushed away.
But McDonald did make the game even safer. When Smallwood's delivery was headed back across goal by Jutkiewicz, McDonald volleyed in to the top corner from eight yards. Soaked, but successful.
Goals: McDonald (28, 1-0); Ledesma (66, 2-0); McDonald (85, 3-0)
Referee: Scott Mathieson (Stockport) 7
Attendance: 21, 850
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-2-3-1): Steele 7; Hoyte 7, Hines 6, Bikey 7, Halliday 7 (Parnaby 90); LEDESMA 8 (Zemmama 88), McEachran 7, Bailey 6, Smallwood 6; McDonald 8, Jutkiewicz 6 (Miller 88). Subs: Leutwiler (gk), Thomson, Emnes, Williams.
HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (4-4-1-1): SMITHIES 8; Hunt 5, Clarke 4, Lynch 5, Dixon 6; Church 5, Robinson 5 (Hammill 54, 5), Norwood 5 (Atkinson 54, 5), Ward 4; Arfield 5; Novak 4 (Lee 68, 5). Subs: Bennett (gk), Woods, Gerrard, Wallace.
MAN OF THE MATCH: EMMANUEL Ledesma - the standing ovation he received from the fans when he was withdrawn shows how highly he is valued now.