Middlesbrough 2 Wigan Athletic 0

Nathan Byrne
Nathan Byrne

Two goals from Middlesbrough striker Jordan Hugill in the space of six minutes just before half-time - both from individual defensive errors - saw Wigan Athletic sign off for the international break with a fourth successive defeat.

Again lacking half of his first-choice outfield line-up through injury and suspension, Paul Cook had called on his side to cut out the mistakes to give themselves a fighting chance.

But Tony Pulis’ Boro were given a massive helping hand to the three points that - for a few moments at least, before Norwich’s stoppage-time winner - sent them top of the Championship, the third side in a row to take over at the top after beating Latics.

There wasn’t much in the game for the first half-an-hour, but Boro showed their threat when they had two efforts blocked before Nick Powell was forced into hacking the ball off the Wigan line.

But Darron Gibson’s ill-fated decision to try to play the ball out from the back led to Cedric Kipre bringing down George Friend in the box for a stonewall penalty.

Hugill made no mistake from 12 yards, and he doubled the lead six minutes later after Christian Walton could only punch a left-wing cross into his path, when there seemed little danger behind him.

For their part, Latics didn’t really force Boro goalkeeper Darren Randolph into much work, and can have no complaints whatsoever about the result.

Boro - knowing top spot was within their grasp - had come flying out of the traps, and lovely footwork by Martin Braithwaite saw him working an early shooting chance, but the left-foot shot found only the side-netting.

At the other end, a mistake at the back from Boro allowed Lee Evans to try his luck from distance, but it was well wide of the mark.

Latics had a massive escape when only a great save from Walton and a superb block from Evans prevented Danny Batth and Dale Fry from finding the net.

And thankfully Powell was in the right place at the right time to lash the ball off the line.

Latics almost fashioned a goal out of nothing, when a Gary Roberts corner found Dan Burn, whose free header was directed wide of the mark.

However, Evans almost made it look a fabulous assist, but couldn’t quite get a touch on it at the far post.

Latics were visibly growing in confidence, but pressed the self-destruct button seven minutes before half-time.

Gibson tried to play a risky pass out from defence, and the ball was intercepted by Friend, who drifted past the Irishman.

Kipre came across to intervene, but Friend got to the ball just before the Latics defender, who clearly fouled his opponent - and the whistle was inevitable.

Former Preston man Hugill placed the ball on the spot, and beat Walton with no drama to make it 1-0.

And the Latics defence cracked again just before the half-time whistle.

Again there was an element of self-destruction, with Braithwaite getting past Reece James far too easily down the left wing.

Walton didn’t need to punch the cross, with no-one behind him, but succeeded only in sending the ball on to the chest of Hugill, who controlled impressively before volleying into the roof of the net.

Boro picked up where they left off in the second half, with only a timely interception by Burn robbing Braithwaite after Gibson made another enforced error.

Credit to Gibson, he showed his mettle by producing a superb block to deny Stewart Downing, before getting up and racing 10 yards to win a tasty 50-50 challenge with Jonny Howson.

That at least kickstarted Latics into life, with a snapshot from Powell being fumbled by Randolph, who regathered just before Josh Windass could get a toe on the loose ball.

But it was almost 3-0 Boro on the hour mark when Howson’s strike from the edge of the box saw Batth stick out a leg, only to deflect it a yard over.

Latics hadn ‘t thrown in the towel, however, and Burn did well to head a deep cross from Nathan Byrne back to Evans, who lashed towards goal only for a defender to throw himself in the way.

Callum McManaman, James Vaughan and Kal Naismith took over from Powell, Windass and Roberts in the last 15 minutes, but it made little difference.

McManaman at least had a sight of goal, but his flashing volley agonisingly flew inches wide of the post.