Two late goals saw Derby County edged out 2-0 in their top of the table clash with Middlesbrough.
In an evenly fought contest, Albert Adomah and George Friend netted in the space of two minutes to condemn Paul Clement’s side to only their third defeat of the 2015/16 season.
Chris Martin and Johnny Russell had the visitors’ best chances - both coming in the first half - but were left thwarted by a Boro defence that kept their eighth consecutive league clean sheet and their ninth successive blank at home.
In the opening stages, Boro fared the better, penning the Rams deep inside their own half and combined their characteristic solid shape with a devastating attack on the break.
Cristhian Stuani headed over the crossbar after eight minutes after Aitor Karanka’s side piled into the Derby penalty area, before Stewart Downing’s wayward cross had Lee Grant back pedalling before it dropped out of play.
Grant was forced into his first save on 16 minutes as he got two strong hands onto Kike’s shot after fluid build-up play from the hosts following another swift break.
Middlesbrough held the game by the scruff of the neck, Emilio Nsue was guilty at the midpoint of the half of wasting another golden opportunity as he headed wide at the far post from an inch-perfect cross from Adomah.
Clement’s side weathered the storm and fought their way back into the contest just shy of the half hour mark, creating their first clear chance through Martin, who directed a header narrowly wide from Richard Keogh’s cross.
Shortly after, Russell, after a quick turn of pace, saw a low drive saved by Dimi Konstantopoulos in a stronger spell for the visitors, but Boro remained a threat.
Adomah shot narrowly wide after dispossessing Keogh halfway inside his own half and Friend saw a deflected drive with his weaker foot fly over too.
Clement’s side, however, finished the half the stronger as they grew in stature and confidence and they took that into a much more even second half on Teesside.
The hosts continued to create the better openings, however, as Grant Leadbitter, the Boro Captain, saw a free kick from range deflected for a corner, whilst Stuani got his angles wrong and fired wide shortly before the hour.
A superb block by Keogh denied Adam Clayton a clean strike on goal as the hosts began to get back on top again and Downing chanced his arm, but again the effort went agonisingly wide.
Contests battled out between the divisions best usually are determined with a moment of quality or a lapse in concentration and both happened in the space of two minutes as Middlesbrough.
The damage came after Clement, boldly, brought Andreas Weimann on for Jacob Butterfield, a move that also brought a switch in formation as the Rams' Head Coach attempted to add more flair to his forward line.
With seven minutes remaining, after Adam Clayton was allowed to bring the ball down, the ball was quickly moved in between the Derby lines – setting Adomah free and one-on-one and Grant. The tricky wideman kept his composure and lifted the ball over the advancing Derby ‘keeper and into the back of the net.
They were not done there either. From losing possession in the hosts’ half, Boro pushed forward again and with a touch of fortune, the ball broke kindly for David Nugent in the box, who crossed for Friend to tap into the back of the net.
With that Derby huffed and puffed in the dying embers of the contest, but the damage was done as Boro ended the Rams’ eight-game unbeaten run and extended their advantage at the top of the Sky Bet Championship table to four points.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Stuani, Leadbitter, Clayton, Adomah, Downing, Kike (Nugent, 59)
Substitutes not used: Mejias, Amorebieta, Kalas, Fabbrini, Forshaw, Zuculini
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Warnock; Thorne (Hendrick, 23), Butterfield (Weimann, 76), Johnson; Ince, Russell, Martin (C)
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Bent, Baird, Pearce, Shotton
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