“NO wonder Darren Randolph is in the Championship’s team of the season,” was Nigel Adkins’ reaction to seeing the Middlesbrough goalkeeper somehow prevent Kamil Grosicky’s stoppage-time free-kick from levelling things up at the Riverside Stadium.

It was a short sentence, but one that summed up how everyone felt at the end of Middlesbrough’s narrow 1-0 victory over Hull City, one which ended a run of four straight home defeats and only the second win in front of their own fans since the turn of the year.

Given the events of the previous match at the Riverside, when supporters turned on Tony Pulis during a six-match losing run, it does not bear thinking about what would have happened had Randolph’s fingertips not pushed Grosicki’s stunning 30-yard free-kick on to the underside of his bar.

Had that gone straight in then there would have been further fuel to the fire of those criticising Pulis at the final whistle because it would have meant another massive dent had been put in Middlesbrough’s chances of sneaking back into the top six in the final four matches.

As thing stand Middlesbrough are only a point behind Bristol City in sixth, albeit with the Robins boasting a game in hand. That, realistically, is the only position still up for grabs, and there is no wriggle room for more defeats if Premier League football is to return to Teesside next season.

It will be hoped that finally winning at home again, on the back of last Tuesday’s win at Bolton, will have given everyone a lift but every game is carrying extra weight of pressure these days, and Good Friday’s visit of Pulis’ former club Stoke City will be no different.

Whether the back-to-back wins will have eased the nerves being felt among the Middlesbrough players as they approach another home date remains unclear.

It is the nerves of playing in front of their own fans that was used to describe aspects of their performance against Hull City by Pulis and his players, so it was a relief and satisfying to keep a clean sheet and collect three important points in the end.

John Obi Mikel, who has spent the majority of his career at the top of the game, has felt that there have been times when the players have struggled to deal with a sense of tension and frustration at the Riverside, when a misplaced pass has led to criticism from some fans.

And it is easy to agree, because of how poor some of the decision making has been at times.

“There are nerves. It’s not normal that you play football games without making a mistake,” said Mikel. “It’s normal to make mistakes. We have to accept it. They don’t want to see us give the ball away.

“But we can’t play a game without giving the ball away as a team. It happens. That’s why we know we can’t get upset with the fans. They have their opinion.

“We want to play well and want to score goals. If you look at the way we play, we try to play the ball. That’s important. It’s the right way to play, but doing that you will make mistakes.

“I wouldn’t say to the fans to come and not (criticise). They have their opinion, if they want to scream that’s fine. But we as players shouldn’t let it affect us, we have to keep doing it and playing. That’s the way to play, to create chances.

“We are creating lots of chances, if we take them we’ll win two or three nil every game. There are nerves but we are professionals and have to deal with it.”

There were numerous examples of the nerves in creeping into Middlesbrough’s display. As well as early simple passes that didn’t find the intended target, there were some fantastic chances that went to waste.

Failing to score goals has become a familiar trend this season and it feels like Pulis has bemoaned poor finishing after almost every game, and a lack of confidence – particularly at home – is being highlighted as a contributory factor.

Ashley Fletcher, who played quite well and set up the winning goal, was guilty of snatching at a back post volley which he blasted over from close range in the first half when he was left unmarked.

Then in the second half Assombalonga stunned the Riverside when, faced with just goalkeeper David Marshall to beat, he lacked conviction and made a complete mess of a pass to Fletcher rather than shoot. Had either of those gone in then Middlesbrough wouldn’t have endured the tense finish they had.

Fletcher also saw Marshall make a save from close range a little before that while, soon after scoring the opener in the 25th minute, Assombalonga had another opportunity when he did well to turn in the area and hammer an effort against the bar.

Both players have shown they can score goals – Assombalonga now has 13, Fletcher has five since late February – so it is strange how there are still visible confidence issues in the final third.

It would be wrong to suggest it was just Middlesbrough’s strikers who have been wasteful though. Aden Flint missed a routine header while George Saville even got in the way of Jonny Howson when it looked easier for one of them to score at the back post on another occasion.

Mikel, who worked with some of the best forwards around during his time at Chelsea and experienced how they went through dips in form, said: “I keep speaking to Britt all the time and Fletch. They have to continue. As an experienced player I always talk to them on the pitch.

“They need someone to say to them keep going, keep playing, if you make a mistake don’t put your head down. That’s exactly what they need. You see Fletch scoring, Britt got the winner here.

“We have to keep encouraging them and talking to them. They’re great lads and they want to learn. They’re doing exactly what they have to do. Sometimes it’s not going in but they have to keep doing it.

“They do finishing in training and if you saw that, the way they score, you wonder why it isn’t going in in games.

“I spoke to Britt and I said ‘stick with it, it will come’. And he got the goal. That will be the nerves a bit. But they are young players. The older they get, they will know that you need to relax and take your chances.”

Assombalonga did find the net. He made the move in to the area at the right time to tap in Fletcher’s pass across the six yard box after Ryan Shotton had rolled a pass down the right.

That arrived after a change of system because Hull, with Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen dangerous down the flanks, caused problems and got too much freedom on the wings.

They too had their moments, with former Sunderland striker Fraizer Campbell wasteful at the other end and he could have had a penalty when it looked like Howson had pulled him back when he looked to get on the end of Jackson Irvine’s cross.

The biggest moment of the game was when Randolph, who is sure to be on plenty clubs’ radar in the summer if Middlesbrough fail to go up, made that stunning late stop to deny Grosicki, and Flint cleared off the line.

Mikel, a Champions League and Premier League winner, said: “It is a tough league. If you haven’t been there, played in it, don’t judge. It’s a tough league, anybody can beat anybody and so hard to predict results.”