A DELIGHTED Neil Warnock was able to celebrate a giant step towards safety as Patrick Roberts’s 82nd-minute strike secured Middlesbrough a crucial 2-1 win at Reading.

Roberts swept home Marvin Johnson’s cross to earn Warnock a third win from six matches as Middlesbrough manager, and transform the picture at the foot of the Championship.

With Hull City suffering a remarkable 8-0 defeat at Wigan Athletic, Boro have moved five points clear of the relegation zone with two games remaining.

They will be certain of survival if they beat Warnock’s former club, Cardiff City, on Saturday, a scenario that had not looked likely when they crashed to defeat at home to Bristol City last weekend.

“It’s relief really,” said the Boro boss, who saw Ashley Fletcher cancel out Liam Moore’s opener before Roberts fired home. “I know we’re not there yet, but this was a massive three points.

“It was important to get something, and to get the three points is great. I thought we deserved it. Even at 1-0 down, I looked across to Blackie (Kevin Blackwell, assistant) and said, ‘This could be the first time we come from behind to win a game’. I just felt it was there.”

Warnock showed his relief as he leapt into the air at the final whistle, and he spoke to his players in a huddle on the pitch before they headed towards the dressing room.

Having been despondent in the wake of Saturday’s defeat, he was delighted to see his players’ reaction as they overcame the disappointment of conceding first to claim a crucial success.

“The lads gave me everything,” he said. “I know I’ve only been here five or six games, but I’d say it’s been the toughest job of my career. I’ve had to really think about how we’re going to get wins or points like never before.

“I think we’ve got a 50 per cent win ration now haven’t we, so it’s not bad. It has been difficult, but I can’t fault the lads, I think they’ve given me everything. I just think they were in the right frame of mind to win this here tonight, the team spirit was brilliant.”

Warnock made a number of changes, restoring Roberts and Marcus Tavernier to the starting side and also selecting Aynsley Pears ahead of Dejan Stojanovic.

He also had to reshuffle his back four after Ryan Shotton opted not to make himself available for Boro’s final three matches as he did not want to exacerbate an injury issue. The centre-half has not been offered a new contract and has therefore played his final game.

“I can understand it,” said Warnock. “He came to see me, and if you’d seen him after the Millwall game, he couldn’t really move the next day after that.

“He wanted to play against Bristol City, so I thought I would leave the same team. But he struggled against Bristol and was tired. He felt a bit of an injury and said, ‘I’m that tired that if I do play again, I might pull a muscle and it might stop me getting a club’. I understand that.”