BORO boss Tony Mowbray was delighted with his side’s character – and new boys – as they dug in late on to end a long bleak run with a 2-1 home win over table-topping Cardiff.
Pay-per-play signing Kieron Dyer stabbed home his first league goal in six years for an early opener and Sammy Ameobi, who arrived on loan from Newcastle, cracked in a sizzling second soon after to put Boro in control of a dominant first half.
But Cardiff hit back after the break and pulled one back through Aron Gunnarsson before creating chances to level in a frantic finale.
“The character got us through,” said Mowbray, whose side had taken just four points from nine games and slipped out of the play-off places in a torrid start to 2013.
“Sometimes when you have been on a run like we have you forget how to win football matches.
“It has been a tough run and sometimes we haven’t got what we deserved, but we worked and we battled and showed real character and we got through in the end.
“Cardiff gave us a lot of problems in the second half.
“They had some big lads in our box and at times it was like Land of the Giants. It was frantic at the end, but we got there.”
After a bright start Boro went ahead after 13 minutes.
Scott McDonald fired a superb cross-field pass for Ishmael Miller to race to the byline on the left and the former West Brom man squared a low ball across the face of goal for Dyer to stab home.
Boro made it two four minutes later when McDonald cut a ball back from the byline on the right for Ameobi to dance between two defenders and curl a powerful shot into the far top corner.
Cardiff almost clawed one back when a corner was only half-cleared and Peter Whittingham drilled in a 20-yard effort that keeper Jason Steele did well to tip over.
Boro almost had a third on the stroke of half-time as McDonald’s low shot clipped Ameobi’s heels and looped up, sending Cardiff keeper David Marshall back-heeling to push over.
Cardiff piled on the pressure after the break and pulled a goal back after 68 minutes when Aron Gunnarsson headed in from a Craig Bellamy corner.
And they almost levelled two minutes from time as Fraizer Campbell got to another corner, but his downward header bounced up over the bar.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Friend, Hines, McManus, Bailey, Dyer (Emnes 74), Leadbitter, McEachran, Ameobi (Ledesma 74), McDonald, Miller (Main 87). Subs not used: Leutwiler, R Williams, Halliday, Smallwood. Booked: McEachran, McDonald. Goals: Dyer 13, Ameobi 17.
Cardiff: Marshall, Taylor, Connolly, Turner, McNaughton (Nugent 46), Smith (Helguson 58), Gunnarsson, Whittingham, Conway, Bellamy (Noone 74), Campbell. Subs not used: Lewis, Cowie, Kim, Mason. Booked: Gunnarsson, Nugent, Marshall. Goals: Gunnarsson 67.
Att: 15,440. Ref: Mark Haywood (W Yorks).