Jonathan Woodgate enjoyed his first win as Middlesbrough head coach after watching his hometown team defeat Wigan 1-0 at the Riverside Stadium.
Britt Assombalonga’s 23rd-minute header proved the difference on Teesside on a night when both teams had their moments and it was hardly a convincing victory.
Middlesbrough were fortunate to have gone ahead when Assombalonga headed in because Wigan had started the brighter and caused the home side problems.
Jamal Lowe, Kieffer Moore and Gavin Massey in the Latics’ attack all could have scored and Lowe in particular forced an early save out of goalkeeper Darren Randolph that would have changed the game completely.
Lowe also had a curling effort roll inches wide after he created space in the area soon after his earlier chance and then Assombalonga arrived on cue in the area to head in Howson’s brilliant delivery.
Woodgate said: “Britt has been different class. You give him chances and he will score. We should have put more balls into the box. I said at half-time, as a centre-half, if we put balls in the box sooner or later a forward will get on it.
“The ball from Jonny was terrific. It was a good performance by him.”
Turn of events at the Riverside Stadium
Wigan arrived at the Riverside at least with a win under their belt, albeit on the opening weekend against Cardiff, something Middlesbrough had failed to achieve beforehand under Woodgate.
Latics boss Paul Cook gave a first start to Jamal Lowe following his summer move from Portsmouth and he was one of two changes to the team that started the defeat to Leeds at the weekend.
Middlesbrough made a few changes themselves, handing first Championship starts to full-back Marc Bola and winger Marcus Browne – who did start last week’s Carabao Cup defeat to Crewe – while midfielder Adam Clayton was recalled.
Woodgate and his players were desperate for a lift having failed so far to deliver a victory under the young head coach, who was appointed in the summer and called for patience from supporters before kick-off.
Wigan started the much brighter and more confident and it was against the run of play when Middlesbrough did find the net in the 23rd minute.
Before that Lowe had forced Darren Randolph, the home side’s goalkeeper, into a flying save after Clayton’s error. The Wigan man had also had a curling effort roll inches wide after he created space in the area soon after.
Middlesbrough had allowed the visitors far too much freedom during that spell and they also looked nervy in possession, but then out of nothing Woodgate’s men took the lead.
Jonny Howson, again operating at right-back, made the most of his position deep in the Wigan half by directing a fantastic delivery for Assombalonga to head in.
There was an immediate chance for Assombalonga to make it two but goalkeeper David Marshall did well to get down to stop.
Wigan, with Kieffer Moore, Gavin Massey and Lowe all looking to advance, still caused Middlesbrough – who had a penalty appeal correctly waved away when Danny Fox tackled Ashley Fletcher – problems.
Fletcher tried his luck with a rare second-half chance with the hour approaching, but he got his angles all wrong and curled wide of Marshall’s left-hand post.
Wigan pressed late on in search of the equaliser but Middlesbrough survived.