ALEN BOKSIC started his first game since Boxing Day and inspired Middlesbrough to a victory which further eases their relegation fears.

The Croatian, pushing for a place in his country's World Cup squad, slotted his seventh goal of the season - and first for over two-and-a-half months - in the 27th minute of this re-arranged clash at the Riverside Stadium.

And the poacher turned provider 13 minutes from time as Slovakia striker Szilard Nemeth came in from the cold to seal the win.

Boro boss Steve McClaren stunned the home crowd when he withdrew Benito Carbone in favour of Nemeth in the 70th minute.

The decision drew boos from the fans but McClaren was vindicated as Boksic found Nemeth in the clear and the Terry Venables-Bryan Robson signing from Inter Bratislava buried a left-foot drive just inside the near post.

It was a relief for Boro after Steve Marlet, Fulham's £11.5m record signing from Lyon, had levelled in the 56th minute when he headed in at the far post after former Newcastle defender Alain Goma had flicked on Steed Malbranque's left-wing corner.

Boro are now unbeaten in their last eight games in all competitions, and have suffered only one defeat in 11 since Fulham beat them by the same scoreline at Craven Cottage on January 12.

But more importantly for McClaren, his side have a six-point cushion between themselves and the bottom three, having jumped five places to 11th and leap-frogged rivals Sunderland in the process on goal difference.

Boksic hadn't featured in the starting line-up since the 3-0 festive defeat at Newcastle, when he stormed straight down the tunnel after being substituted late in the game.

A propensity to break down with injuries and illness has led some to query his commitment to Boro.

But it is a charge he has furiously refuted and McClaren revealed on the eve of this game that his star striker has found "peace of mind'' at the Riverside, nearly two years after his £2.5m arrival from Lazio.

Be that as it may, Boksic still has much to do to justify Boro's huge investment in him which, it is claimed, stretches to over £60,000-a-week.

But the loan signing of Carbone from Bradford has helped to re-invigorate Boksic, and the Italian striker was in tandem on Tuesday night after being cup-tied for Saturday's victory here over Blackburn.

Jonathan Greening returned in midfield following a one-match ban for this re-arranged fixture, which fell foul of the weather three days before Christmas.

Greening, still searching for his first Riverside goal, was presented with Boro's first chance in the fourth minute when Boksic found the former Manchester United player inside the 18-yard box on the right.

But he was quickly closed down and his half-hit shot skewed wide of the near post.

Greening then played his side into trouble with a less than precise pass, but Gareth Southgate, as he has done so often this season, came to Boro's rescue when he cut out Malbranque's ball, which was intended for the unmarked Barry Hayles.

Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer also denied Hayles when he raced from his box to head away a Sean Davis through-ball.

The home side were close to a breakthrough in the 24th minute when left-back Franck Queudrue met Carbone's right-wing corner with a towering header which flew just wide.

But with Carbone prompting from deep positions, there was always the promise of something special from the former Inter Milan man, and he duly delivered three minutes later when he swivelled sweetly to release Boksic.

There was a suspicion of offside but no sign of a flag and, after having a look to make sure himself, Boksic broke clear on the left to cut in and lift a deft finish over the sprawling Edwin van der Sar.

Carbone could have opened his Boro account on the stroke of half-time when he was fed by Greening on the left, but he got underneath the ball and his shot sailed over.

But Boro escaped in stoppage-time when Ugo Ehiogu was caught napping and Marlet nipped in to race clear and round Schwarzer before firing wide.

Boro began the second period in the ascendancy and when Queudrue unleashed a speculative long-range drive, the head of Boksic diverted the ball goalward and van der Sar was relieved to see it drop over.

But Fulham checked Boro's momentum with Marlet's strike and he almost doubled the pain in the 65th minute.

Malbranque worked the ball inside and Marlet made room for a raking drive from the edge of the area which was turned aside spectacularly by Schwarzer.

Having already brought on Hartlepool-born teenager David Murphy in place of Robbie Mustoe to facilitate a switch to wing-backs, McClaren opted to utilise his full complement of substitutes, with Nemeth taking over from Carbone and Dean Windass replacing Noel Whelan.

But it was centre-back Ugo Ehiogu who almost restored Boro's lead when headed against the bar from Greening's right-wing corner.

Read more about Boro here.