West Brom 0 Middlesbrough 2
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink continued his hot form in front of goal to ease Middlesbrough’s relegation fears but leave West Brom in a dogfight with local rivals Birmingham to survive in the Premiership.
Hasselbaink’s double took his tally to seven in the last 10 games and punished one of the sides linked with signing him during the January transfer window.
The Dutchman is out of contract in the summer but looks as if he could still play a role in Boro’s longer-term future if he maintains his current form.
Steve McClaren will join up with England for the friendly with Uruguay in a happier frame of mind now that Boro are eight points clear of the drop zone.
But Albion will be looking anxiously over their shoulder and they are just three points ahead of third-bottom Birmingham who have a game in hand.
To add to Albion’s misery, midfielder Nigel Quashie was red-carded for kicking out at Boro opponent George Boateng early in the second half and he will now have to serve a three-match ban.
It was not the response that Baggies manager Bryan Robson was looking for, after taking his side away for a warm-weather training break in Dubai during a 16-day break from action.
He had demanded his side adopt a high-tempo approach to test out Boro after a recent gruelling schedule – but it never materialised after a promising opening.
Albion had plenty of possession but could not get on the end of some decent crosses from, in particular, Martin Albrechtsen as Gareth Southgate and Chris Riggott dominated at the back.
Boro always looked dangerous on the counter-attack and in the second half were content to soak up the pressure from the home side.
The signs were not promising for Albion from the start and Yakubu had a good chance to put Middlesbrough ahead in their first attack.
Gaizka Mendieta’s deep corner was turned back across goal by Riggott to Yakubu who was unable to keep his header down.
Albion tried to retaliate and Diomansy Kamara showed some good skill on the left before cutting into the Boro penalty area and drilling a low shot into the side-netting.
Most of Albion’s threat came from the overlapping Albrechtsen before Boro went ahead through Hasselbaink’s 11th goal of the campaign.
Hasselbaink timed his run to stay onside as he raced onto the pass from Yakubu and, although Tomasz Kuszczak got a hand on the shot, it contained too much power and found the centre of the net.
Albion tried to build up momentum and Kanu had a shot deflected wide from the edge of the box while Southgate was quicker to react than Kevin Campbell to a Neil Clement cross.
Stuart Parnaby blocked a shot from Kamara after Kanu had set up the opportunity, and former Boro winger Jonathan Greening sent the rebound well wide.
Southgate became the first player to be yellow-carded after 34 minutes for handball to prevent Kanu’s run at goal. From Greening’s free-kick, Campbell put in a far-post header which was comfortably dealt with by Schwarzer.
A minute before the break Hasselbaink made it 2-0 after Curtis Davies was judged to have brought him down just outside the box.
Hasselbaink took the free-kick himself and his shot hit Ronnie Wallwork and deflected past Kuszczak.
Albion needed a positive response to the second period if they were to get back into the game and Lee Cattermole was yellow-carded for a challenge on Greening.
Mark Schwarzer held Quashie’s header from Albrechtsen’s cross but after 55 minutes the home side were reduced to 10 men when Quashie was dismissed.
The former Southampton player could have no complaints as he clearly kicked George Boateng in the back after the pair had been challenging for the ball, and he now faces a three match ban.
It left the Baggies with a mountain to climb although Greening, who made a bigger impact in the second period, was only just off target with a swerving drive.
A shot on the turn from Kanu which was held by Schwarzer was the closest they came to halving the deficit.