Boro closed the gap on the top-six after picking up a vital win against fellow chasers Stoke City at the Riverside.

Goals from Grant Hall, Paddy McNair and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing provided the platform for Neil Warnock’s side to collect a deserved three points that keeps Boro very much on the coat-tails of the Championship’s play-off places.

The manner of the victory will have been particularly pleasing for Warnock, who saw his side outmanoeuvre an opposing team who were desperate for a win to boost their own hopes.  

Stoke did hit the post early doors when Jacob Brown tried his luck with a speculative effort, but Warnock made a tactical switch that saw his side assume control of the contest and Boro were in front inside the opening 20 minutes. 

Dael Fry quickly turned defence into attack for the home side to win a corner before Chuba Akpom showed fantastic skill at the near post from Marc Bola’s delivery and Hall was on hand to convert his first goal at the Riverside.

Moments later, Neeskens Kebano fired into the side-netting after he seized upon a wayward pass from former Boro midfielder John Obi-Mikel. Kebano also sent another effort wide after more good build-up play from Boro.

McNair made no mistake, though, when he was presented with a similar opportunity. Yannick Bolasie did well to release the Northern Ireland international and he showed goods composure after switching to his right foot to apply the finishing touch.

Boro were good value for the advantage and largely snuffed out Stoke as an attacking threat. Hall and Fry marshalled the back line well, and the visitors were restricted to very little. There was a spell of pinball in the Boro box early in the second period, but Warnock’s men got their blocks in.

McNair went close to another goal when he tried to lift the ball over a stranded Angus Gunn from distance, but saw his shot hit the side netting, while Hall also nearly had a second but for a City block on his back-post volley.

When veteran striker Steven Fletcher found space at the far post to meet a corner at the other end, Marcus Bettinelli proved equal to the strike by making a good save. Sam Vokes also had a shot blocked by Fry as the clock ticked down.

And substitute Mendez-Laing had the last word when he scored his first goal for the club in some style with a wonderful finish after being released by Sam Morsy.