MIDDLESBROUGH'S Championship play-off hopes were kept alive by beating Stoke City 3-0 at the Riverside Stadium.

First half goals from Grant Hall and Paddy McNair put Boro firmly on track for a home win for only the second time since the turn of the year.

Hall’s opener in the 21st minute arrived out of the blue and from there Middlesbrough never looked back, with McNair adding the second five minutes before half-time.

Substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Laing wrapped things up with the third with two minutes left.

This was the fourth defeat in five matches for mid-table Stoke and has left them five points behind ninth-placed Middlesbrough, who remain eight points behind sixth-placed Barnsley.

Middlesbrough’s poor recent home form encouraged Stoke to go on the offensive from the first whistle and Jacob Brown was inches away from putting the visitors in front when his cross hit the post 22 seconds in.

Stoke kept pressing too and were clearly intent on taking the lead, but Michael O’Neill’s side were unable to turn their play into a goal.

The only other opportunity they created was when full-back Tommy Smith cut inside Neeskens Kebano and with the goal to aim at his curling effort went wide of the near post.

Five minutes later Middlesbrough – whose decision to change formation and switch McNair from defence to midfield brought the rewards - went ahead against the run of play with the first serious threat to Angus Gunn’s goal.

Chuba Akpom brilliantly flicked Marc Bola’s corner on at the near post. Hall was quick to pounce ahead of Smith to side-foot the opener over the line from close range.

Stoke continued to enjoy plenty of the ball without really threatening. The only other real chance they had was when James Chester headed over Jack Clarke’s corner.

That was ten minutes after Kebano had shaved the side-netting at the other end just before the half hour mark when he beat Harry Souttar to shoot.

And, after Kebano had flashed another effort wide, McNair added the second in style. He took a touch before opening his body up and rolling inside the far corer after Yannick Bolasie had played him in down the left.

Middlesbrough almost had a third just before the hour when Bolasie’s brilliant headed flick invited Gunn to race out of his box to clear. It ended up at McNair and his strike shaved the side-netting rather than drop into the empty goal.

Stoke didn’t do enough in an attacking sense until the closing stages.

Middlesbrough invited more pressure on by appearing to be satisfied with their lot, and Bettinelli made an important strong-handed stop from Steven Fletcher’s volley to keep the two up.

But with two minutes remaining Mendez-Laing, seven minutes after coming on, chipped Gunn to seal the win after Sam Morsy’s breakaway and pass rolled him in with just the keeper to beat.