James Maddison struck as Norwich extended their unbeaten run to five Sky Bet Championship matches with a 1-0 victory on Teesside.
Maddison netted a brilliant winner in the 12th minute to lift the Canaries level on points with Boro.
Finishing the game with £36million worth of striker talent on the pitch Boro could not find a way through the Norwich defence. The Canaries have now gone seven hours and 48 minutes without conceding under Daniel Farke, while Middlesbrough lost at home on a midweek night for the first time since 2011, halting a run of 28 matches.
In a bid to strengthen Boro’s chances, Garry Monk recalled Adama Traore straight into the starting line-up after serving a three-match ban. There was also a place on the bench for £9million forward Martin Braithwaite after injury.
Norwich, who defeated their hosts when they played each other in the match that is not to be mentioned, arrived full of confidence and it showed. Their resilience to keep Middlesbrough at bay certainly highlighted their recent improvements.
The only time Middlesbrough went close to scoring in the first half was when Britt Assombalonga’s back-post header bounced across the face of the goal and was cleared after a decent run and delivery from winger Marvin Johnson.
The former Oxford wide-man and Traore seemed the likeliest source of supply but there was no cutting edge, so the defensive yellow shirts of Christoph Zimmermann and Timm Klose prevented Assombalonga from finding space.
It meant Norwich were able to stay ahead after the opening goal, even though it was gifted to them by Boro’s Dael Fry.
Fry, who has impressed so far this season, gave the ball away too cheaply on the left after a Norwich counter-attack. Marley Watkins rolled into the path of Maddison and he did the rest, striking his second goal for Norwich with a curling right-footed finish inside the top right corner from 25 yards.
The game opened up more in the second half. Norwich had the best of the early chances, when Darren Randolph had to make a fine stop at his near post to turn behind Cameron Jerome’s effort after he had been put clear by Maddison.
There were half chances for Traore and Assombalonga as Middlesbrough – who introduced Ashley Fletcher for the defensively-minded Adam Clayton – stepped things up, but both efforts dropped nicely into the arms of goalkeeper Angus Gunn.
Assombalonga then had an even greater chance when he was afforded space to head freely at goal from Cyrus Christie’s delivery, but once again it dropped into the arms of the keeper. A couple of late penalty shouts were waved away too, as Norwich held on to return to Norfolk with an impressive three points.
He watched his side dominate, racking up 12 corners to Norwich’s one, and create many more chances than their opponents, only to come up short. The result means Middlesbrough have dropped out of the play-off places.
Monk said: “I’m frustrated, of course. We all are, the players are as well.
“We gifted them the goal so paid the price. Lessons need to be learned. We have done that in other games and we have shown the character and determination to get back in but you can’t continually do that, where we gift a goal to the opposition.
“You saw for the rest of the game where they had 10 behind the ball on their six-yard box and we knew that was coming. Realistically we should have scored but too many times we didn’t deliver the right ball and that right pass in the final third.
“The effort and commitment is always there, but we can’t keep gifting a head start. We have done that recently but too many times we have made mistakes. It’s not like teams are coming and opening us up, we can’t do that continually.”
Farke said: “I have compliments for the lads, this was a brilliant win. We were against a tough side away from home with eyes on the title. We had to do it without so many players too, we had to create a special plan for this game.
“Our philosophy is normally to dominate the ball so today we had to concentrate on our defensive behaviour and counter strengths. Overall I think the guys did really well. We didn’t give away too many chances. Our defence was brilliant.
“It’s a good thing when you are able to improve. Not many teams will win an away game at Middlesbrough.”