Middlesbrough back in a relegation fight

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MIDDLESBROUGH are not out of the relegation woods just yet after their good run of form in the npower Championship ended at Crystal Palace.

James Vaughan’s deflected strike proved the difference as the Londoners edged out their rivals at Selhurst Park.

The striker, on loan from Everton, collected the ball and dribbled past a couple of Boro defenders before unleashing a shot that took a deflection before nestling in the net to give Dougie Freedman his first win since being named the official Palace manager.

The Eagles had chances to kill the game off through Jermaine Easter and former Newcastle United man Darren Ambrose and though they were made to hang on in the final stages, they managed to claim victory.

Boro were a touch unlucky to come away with nothing, as they dominated possession and saw Julio Arca hit the post in the first half.

However, their failure to create any meaningful chances came back to haunt them as they saw their six-match unbeaten run come to an end.

Although Palace stayed in 21st place in the league, they moved four points clear of the drop zone.

Boro boss Tony Mowbray said: “My disappointment about Saturday was that we slipped below the high standards we have set ourselves over recent weeks.

“I think we knew what sort of game was coming and we did some work during the week about trying to break down teams who defend around the edge of their own box and have protecting midfield players.

“To be honest, we weren’t that good at it during the week, so it was probably no great surprise that we didn’t score on Saturday.

“We generally controlled the game, I thought, but you are going to come up against teams, even away from home, who are going to be solid and set out their stall not to concede goals.

“So we’ve got to do better than we did on Saturday.

“We have got ourselves into some decent positions in recent weeks and scored some goods goals – we went to Bristol and got four.

“On Saturday, though, we came up against a team with a new manager who set them up not to concede and not be very expansive.

“I’m frustrated at our inability to break down a stubborn defence.”

Mowbray had no fewer than 11 players on the treatment table but he made just one change to the line-up that defeated Scunthorpe on Tuesday, with Jonathan Franks replacing the injured Marvin Emnes.

Despite their growing injury list, Boro have been on a good run of late and following a lifeless opening in which neither team was able to force the initiative, Arca nearly brought the game to life when his early strike from 35 yards cracked the post.

Kris Boyd and Leroy Lita narrowly missed the target with further long-range efforts as the visitors started to dominate proceedings.

Their failure to create any clear-cut opportunities came back to haunt them, though, as Vaughan broke the deadlock in the 36th minute.

The striker collected the ball and weaved his way through the Boro defence before his strike took a deflection, which lifted the ball over the unfortunate Jason Steele.

Mowbray’s men had been looking vulnerable at the back after Matthew Bates had gone off injured and though they trailed at half-time, they could be consoled by the fact they came from behind to beat the Eagles the last time the two sides met in November.

However, they were indebted to Steele, who kept his side in the game with fine saves from Easter and Ambrose.

The Boro keeper’s stop from Ambrose was particularly impressive as he had to get down low to palm the former Newcastle man’s effort from the edge of the area to safety.

As the visitors pushed for an equaliser, Wilfried Zaha struck wide from 12 yards on the counter attack.

Boro were unable to test Julian Speroni in the closing stages, despite good pressure and the hosts claimed their first win in six matches.

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Clyne, McCarthy, Gardner, Moxey, Zaha, Marrow, Wright, Ambrose (Scannell 62), Vaughan (Iversen 79), Easter (Counago 71). Subs Not Used: Price, Davis, Barrett, Garvan. Booked: Easter, Zaha.

Middlesbrough: Steele, McMahon, Hines, Bates (Grounds 22), Bennett, Franks (Park 46), Bailey, Taylor, Arca, Boyd (McDonald 59), Lita. Subs Not Used: Ripley, Haas, Halliday, Smallwood.

Att: 14,060 Ref: Roger East (Wiltshire).