Norwich City’s hold of Boro continued at the Captain James Cook Stadium as the Sky Bet Championship leaders collected all three points.
On what was a day of celebrating the Tees Valley at the stadium, it was the men from East Anglia who were toasting the biggest gains thanks to an Onel Hernandez goal early in the second half.
It was tough on Boro who had started the game on the front foot and created opportunities. Jonny Howson forced Tim Krul into an early save and then teed up George Friend for another effort to test the Norwich keeper. Ashley Fletcher was next to try his luck after good play by Britt Assombalonga, but he curled his shot wide of the mark.
If Boro were looking the livelier, Norwich gave a timely reminder as to the threat they posed when Teemu Pukki tested Darren Randolph for the first time, and the Republic of Ireland international made a superb save.
Daniel Ayala made a terrific block from a well-struck volley from Kenny McLean, and Randolph came off his line to deny Pukki who was through on goal, making a terrific one-handed save to his left. And, on the stroke of half-time, Randolph was called upon to make yet another vital save at the far post.
Boro had enjoyed the territorial advantage, though, during the first half, and it was the home side who came within a whisker of opening the scoring immediately after the restart when Ayala rattled a header against the upright.
Krul was also called upon to smother another strike from Howson, but sod’s law was ruling on Teesside once again, and it was Norwich who drew first blood. Boro staged a comedy of errors in clearing a Norwich ball in the box, but Hernandez still had to work himself an opening to get in a low strike past Randolph.
It was harsh on Boro and a huge goal for the visitors in the promotion race. Their confidence boosted, Pukki went close to a second goal shortly after the hour, and Norwich’s leading goalscorer was twice denied by some terrific defending.
When Boro did come forward, Norwich captain Christoph Zimmerman pulled off a superb goal-line clearance to deny Stewart Downing a certain equaliser with 15 minutes remaining. Fellow sub Jordan Hugill was also denied in the final minutes.
Scorer Hernandez 54
Boro: Randolph, Flint, Ayala (Downing 60), Fry, Shotton (Hugill 87), Clayton (Besic 72), Mikel, Howson, Friend, Fletcher, Assombalonga. Subs: Dimi, McNair, Saville, Tavernier.
Norwich: Krul, Godfrey, Zimmerman, Lewis, Stati, Stiepermann (Vrancic 84), Trybull, Pukki, McLean, Hernandez (Klose 90+4) Aarons. Subs: McGovern, Leitner, Rhodes, Hanley, Cantwell.
Referee: David Coote
Boro Ayala 33, handball; Mikel 49, unsporting behaviour; Downing 66, foul
City Stiepermann 42, foul; Zimmermann 48, foul; Hernandez 54, excessive celebration; Trybull 57, unsporting behaviour
Attendance: 23,795 (1,467 Norwich)