Jordan Hugill has hurt both himself and Middlesbrough’s hopes of surviving the championship with a brilliant pressure winner for Queens Park Rangers at Riverside.
The finishing touch to Hugill’s game turned out to be sublime and decisive immediately after the half hour, lifting the ball onto Boro goalkeeper Dejan Stojanovic with a 25-yard volley.
Neil Warnock’s Boron dominated much of the second half, but was unable to find an equalizer to remove it from the lower three.
Lukas Nmecha unnecessarily wasted the best chance of catching up one point past the bar late, while QPR continued to collect its first points since the championship restart after the forced breakdown of the coronavirus pandemic.
Stoke’s victory over fellow strikers Barnsley on Saturday saw Boro slip to the bottom of three ahead of the Rangers’ visit and what was Warnock’s first home game as head of the Teessiders.
And there they remain, a point adrift of Hull in 21st place, with five games remaining.
Hugill shoots Circle for safety
QPR had resumed the campaign in June with only six points adrift of the play-off places, but after three successive defeats they traveled north-east to just six points above the launch area.
The ambitions to challenge the promotion had been dented in recent weeks and any further points left would have seen Mark Warburton’s team drawn into an already tight relegation fight.
A rebel cross from Todd Kane that forced Boro goalkeeper Stojanovic to bounce and flip the ball over the bar was the Rangers’ first attempt on goal at Riverside.
At the other end Joe Lumley was called into action twice in 40 seconds by the two Boro strikers in the middle of the first half – first by Britt Assombalonga from a distance before an angled effort by Ashley Fletcher at the first post required an intelligent save from 25 Year-old caretaker.
A moment of indecision on the part of Hugill immediately after the half hour saw a huge possibility for visitors to waste: the loaner from West Ham touched too many while running in goal, allowing George Friend to put pressure a shot that Stojanovic did well to suffocate.
A minute later Hugill had no hesitation like that, when he raised his fifteenth goal of the season on goalkeeper Boro with a sensational first half after meeting a diagonal ball by Ryan Manning.
Instead of marking the goal with the celebrations, the attacker born in Middlesbrough went straight to the ground clutching his hamstring. He limped off the pitch before he started again, with the Laias Chair replacing his replacement.
QPR, a team that had managed to score only one goal in the three defeats that preceded the trip by the river, pressed for a second before the break, but Stojanovic easily faced a shot from the chair and was equal to a dangerous free-kick of Manning.
Boro worked to seriously threaten Londoners after half-time, with Nmecha’s late chance after meeting a low cross from Jonny Howson as close as possible to make up for a point.