MIDDLESBROUGH returned to the play-off places for the first time since early September as Marcus Tavernier’s first-half strike secured a Tees-Wear derby win over Sunderland.

Tavernier converted Martin Braithwaite’s cross in the sixth minute to score the only goal of the game as Boro claimed their third victory in the space of eight days.

Sunderland created a handful of first-half chances, but failed to test Darren Randolph at all in the second half as they remain rooted to the foot of the Championship table.

Loading article content

Sunderland, under the caretaker control of Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay, should have been ahead as early as the third minute.

Randolph appeared to be affected by the bright sunlight in his eyes, and the Boro goalkeeper could only parry Didier Ndong’s low effort to Lewis Grabban. The Sunderland striker had plenty of time to pick his spot, but Randolph saved his follow-up effort with his legs.

It was a costly miss from a Sunderland perspective as Boro claimed the lead just three minutes later. A superb reverse pass from Stewart Downing sent Braithwaite scampering towards the byline, and when the Dane squared the ball across the six-yard box, Tavernier stole ahead of Billy Jones to slot home.

Randolph saved from Lee Cattermole as Sunderland tried to stage a recovery, with Aiden McGeady also shooting over before the break, and Robbin Ruiter was called into action at the other end before the interval, saving from Britt Assombalonga.

Boro went close again at the start of the second, but while Assombalonga did well to tee up Braithwaite in the area, Robbin Ruiter produced a superb save to keep out the striker’s side-footed shot.

Ruiter also saved Downing’s free-kick in the closing stages, and Boro were able to cruise through the second half without any real risk of ceding their advantage.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Randolph; Christie, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Downing, Leadbitter (Forshaw 84), Howson, Tavernier (Johnson 64); Braithwaite, Assombalonga (Fletcher 81).

Subs (not used): Konstantopoulos (gk), Fabio, Shotton, Traore.

Sunderland (4-5-1): Ruiter; Jones (Matthews 27), Wilson, O’Shea, Oviedo; Ndong (Honeyman 55), Cattermole, McNair (Williams 77), Gibson, McGeady; Grabban.

Subs (not used): Steele (gk), Rodwell, Gooch, McManaman.