- Boro capitalise on Hull defeat to reclaim top spot
- Gaston Ramirez inspires the hosts with brace
- Wolves not won at the Riverside Stadium in 65 years
- Third straight away defeat for Kenny Jackett’s team
MIDDLESBROUGH returned to the SkyBet Championship summit as Gaston Ramirez scored twice in a dominant victory over Wolves.
The on-loan Southampton forward, one of five players recalled by Aitor Karanka, stooped to head home Adam Clayton’s cross in a one-sided first half that Boro dictated.
His second was a stunning curler from the corner of the box early in the second half after exchanging passes with stand-in skipper George Friend.
A lacklustre Wolves pulled one back four minutes from time when substitute Joe Mason’s header deflected in off Ben Gibson, who was credited with an own goal, but their first goal in four away games was too little too late.
Karanka’s side held on to move two points above Burnley, who host east Lancashire rivals Blackburn in Saturday’s early kick-off, as they bounced back from the surprise midweek defeat at Ewood Park to earn only a second home win of 2016.
Wolves arrived in buoyant mood after ending their seven-game winless run against Derby last weekend but were deflated by a confident Boro as Kenny Jackett’s men remain without an away win since New Year’s Day.
Boro opened brightly, in contrast to the chilling Teesside temperatures, as the impressive Albert Adomah twice came close and Tomas Kalas fired off target in the first 10 minutes.
Wolves struggled to set out their stall and were further unsettled by the loss of Ethan Ebanks-Landell to a hamstring injury after just 18 minutes.
The breakthrough came just six minutes later when Ramirez stole in at the back post to head Clayton’s cross into the bottom corner from four yards as Wolves could not sufficiently clear an initial free-kick.
Although desperate Wolves defending prevented further Boro opportunities, the hosts completely bossed the first period and Ramirez curled straight at Ikeme shortly before the break.
There was no immediate change in pattern in the second half, which was only 21 seconds old when Jordan Rhodes’s header from an Adomah centre was turned over the bar superbly by Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme.
Rhodes – who has now scored once in seven Boro appearances since his £9 million move from Blackburn – then rifled another effort over when collecting Adam Forshaw’s pass on the edge of the box.
The night, though, belonged to their other major January recruit as Ramirez doubled his money with a delightful curling shot from 18 yards which deceived Ikeme’s despairing dive.
It was a timely tribute in the 56th minute to the ‘voice of Boro’ Ali Brownlee, the BBC Tees commentator who lost his battle with bowel cancer last month as the home faithful chanted his name vociferously.
Boro, in cruise control, continued to entertain their supporters with the kind of attractive brand of football that you would expect from serious promotion contenders.
Rhodes flashed another header off target after a well-worked move before right-back Emilio Nsue was inches away from finding the far corner with an ambitious right-footed effort.
Wolves belatedly introduced their £3 million January signing Joe Mason in place of an unusually quiet Nathan Byrne.
The former Cardiff striker had their first meaningful effort midway through the half but his free-kick did not trouble Dimi Konstantopoulos.
The Greek stopper was finally forced into action on 71 minutes to shovel behind a tame effort from Jeremy Helan, in his second Wolves outing since joining on loan from Sheffield Wednesday.
The return of Jack Price from the bench to ease Jackett’s injury list was one of few positive notes for a Wolves side who were second best throughout.
Mason managed to pull one back with a glancing header which looped in off Gibson’s back to give Wolves a late lifeline.
But Boro deserved the three points as they capitalise on Hull’s defeat at Birmingham on Thursday and become the frontrunners once again in the automatic promotion race.
Substitutes: de Sart (on for Ramirez 88′)
Not used: Agazzi (GK), de Laet, Fry, Sola, Downing, Nugent.
Booked: Adomah (67′)
Goals: Ramirez (24′, 56′)
Substitutes: Hause (on for Ebanks-Landell 18′), Mason (on for Byrne 65′) and Price (on for McDonald 79′).
Not used: Martinez (GK), Deslandes, Hunte, Le Fondre.
Booked: Iorfa (23′), McDonald (72′)
Goals: Gibson (86′ og)
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire) – 9/10