Neil Warnock celebrated his 1,500th league match in management as Boro beat Barnsley.
The victory at a drizzly Riverside was Boro’s first in league action on home turf since Boxing Day last year. And it was a deserved win for Boro, who dominated much of the contest before a late penalty for the visitors set up a tense finish.
Chuba Akpom made his home bow looking to add to his debut goal a week ago, while Sam Morsy was handed his first league start in a Boro shirt.
Marc Bola was also in league action for the first time this season, and Dael Fry replaced the injured Grant Hall in the other changes for the Teessiders from the 1-1 draw at Queens Park Rangers.
Chances were at a premium in the game’s early exchanges, Barnsley enjoying more of possession but both defences untroubled for the first ten minutes.
When the first opening did arrive with a quarter of an hour on the clock, it was a big one - and it came Boro’s way. Britt Assombalonga failed to find the feet of strike partner Chuba Akpom with a pass, but the ball squirmed between two Barnsley defenders on the greasy surface and suddenly Akpom was in space with a chance to shoot. He duly obliged, but agonisingly bent it the wrong side of the post.
Boro were stepping things up though, and the next chance would test Bradley Collins in the Barnsley goal. Paddy McNair once more showed his set piece credentials with a fine free-kick into the danger area, and international teammate George Saville’s header produced a fingertip save from the visiting keeper.
Tykes captain Alex Mowatt completed a neat one-two on the edge of Boro’s box before curling wide in what was a rare away foray forward.
Then Boro were back on the offensive, Akpom stretching to meet Marc Bola’s low cross but not getting enough on it to test Collins.
Akpom was convinced he had given Boro the lead when Sam Morsy’s vicious strike ricocheted off him and beyond a wrong-footed Collins - but his celebrations were cut shot by a late offside flag from the linesman.
Just when it seemed that Boro would be unable to capitalise on a dominant 45, the breakthrough was made. It was well into first-half stoppage time when Marcus Tavernier rattled a free-kick off the crossbar, a scramble ensued and Jonny Howson was on the spot to slam home the game’s opener.
If the first half had started slowly, Boro were quickly out of the blocks in the second.
The lively Morsy tried to bend one with the outside of his right foot which Collins was able to pluck from the air.
But the Barnsley keeper couldn’t cling on to it when Tavernier thundered another one goalwards minutes later, and the grateful Chuba Akpom was well placed to slide in the rebound for his second goal in two Boro games.
Mowatt bent a free-kick narrowly over as Barnsley went in search of a way back into the contest, while George Saville did well to charge down a shot from the edge of Boro’s area.
A dangerous low cross from Marc Bola caused problems in the Tykes box, Collins fortunate to claim off a touch from one of his own defenders.
Britt Assombalonga went in search of a third for Boro on the breakaway, but a Barnsley man put his body on the line and took the sting from the captain’s effort.
The Tykes eyed a lifeline from another attacking set play, but Michal Helik lifted his header onto the roof of the Boro goal under pressure from Bettinelli.
The away side did find one in consolation when Jonny Howson was adjudged to have fouled in his own area, and Cauley Woodrow placed the penalty away.