JONATHAN WOODGATE felt his Middlesbrough players finally received a fitting reward for their improved performances as they claimed a crucial 1-0 win over relegation rivals Charlton Athletic.

Paddy McNair’s first-half finish ended a run of ten league games without a victory and hauled the Teessiders two points clear of the drop zone with nine games to play.

Woodgate was pleased with his players’ performance against Leeds United and Nottingham Forest, but was disappointed with a one-point haul from those games.

Another decent display finally resulted in a win at the Valley, something Woodgate had felt was coming despite his side’s recent poor run.

“I’m really pleased,” said the Boro boss. “If you saw the last two performances against Leeds and Forest, we were miles better. Today, I thought we were exceptional at times in the game.

“We created a lot of opportunities, it could have been more than 1-0 and I thought the team in general was very good.

“I asked for more intensity, first half, and wanted more intensity in the second half, I didn’t want us to drop off and we didn’t. We looked very, very dangerous the whole game. I thought the intensity was a lot better, it was very good just like it was against Forest and Leeds.”

Woodgate reserved special praise for McNair, who scored the only goal of the game as he slotted home from the inside the box.

The Northern Irishman has spent a big chunk of the season covering at centre-half, but this afternoon’s assured midfield display proved his value when he is able to play in his preferred position.

“I thought Paddy was very good,” said Woodgate. “He played very well at centre-back and then the next three games I had a discussion and he agreed with me - that wasn’t Paddy McNair.

“But I thought today he ran the midfield along with Adam Clayton. It’s difficult to pick out players because to a man I thought they were excellent, but I was pleased for Paddy.

“Maybe when he went back to centre-half it took him a bit of time to get over that because at centre-half you don’t cover as much ground as you do in midfield. I’m expecting my midfielders to be over 1,000m high intensity - as defenders you get 400m.

“He had four or five games at centre-half and he’s doing 500m high intensity, and then he’s got to go into midfield and do a 1,000m at high intensity and 300m sprint distance. It’s different, but I thought today he was very good.

Woodgate’s decision to drop Aynsley Pears for Dejan Stojanovic proved justified, with the debutant goalkeeper stepping in to keep a clean sheet on his senior debut.

Pears found himself on the substitutes’ bench after making a costly late error in Monday’s draw with Nottingham Forest, but Woodgate insists the youngster will get plenty of chances in the future.

“I think Aynsley has done unbelievably well, but I just thought with ten games to go, Dejan has played a lot of competitive games and has done a lot better in training recently,” said the Boro boss. “He’s played a lot of Under-23s games so I thought he deserved a chance.

“From where Aynsley has come from last year, playing in non-league for Gateshead, he’s done absolutely unbelievable.

“His attitude again today in the warm-up, before the game, when I told him was magnificent. He’s a mature kid for a 21-year-old.”