Gaston Ramirez bags two and makes another as Middlesbrough push for promotion
Gaston Ramirez turned on the style against Huddersfield to power Middlesbrough to a third successive win in the race for promotion to the Premier League.
Ramirez earned the penalty for skipper Grant Leadbitter to convert in the 32nd minute and added the second himself moments later to keep Boro in an automatic promotion place.
The 25-year-old, on loan from Southampton, then curled in a brilliant free-kick with 13 minutes remaining to complete the 3-0 win to lift Middlesbrough to within a point of Championship leaders Burnley.
The Teessiders also have a game in hand as well as two more consecutive home dates with Preston and Reading inside a week, as the hopes increase that they will be back in the Premier League next season.
Aitor Karanka, the Middlesbrough head coach, uncharacteristically stuck with a winning team even though he tends to freshen things up for a midweek fixture, which meant defender Daniel Ayala had to start another game on the bench. Tomas Kalas was preferred, while B#9m striker Jordan Rhodes was preferred up front again ahead of David Nugent.
Huddersfield, who have climbed clear of the relegation zone after signs of progress under German boss David Wagner, made three changes in the hope of repeating their last away-day win at Leeds, a comprehensive 4-1 success.
That was largely built on an effective counter-attacking style and Karanka had to be wary of that, particularly after Middlesbrough had failed to make the most of early possession. Albert Adomah created their earliest chance when he pinched the ball off Joel Lynch, only for Rhodes to waste it.
But Lynch was given a tough night from that moment on and Middlesbrough, who would have scored earlier had goalkeeper Jed Steer not made a fine stop from Rhodes, were two goals up before the break.
Lynch got himself in a mess just after half an hour when Ramirez's clever turn just inside the area earned a foul. Leadbitter, who missed a penalty at QPR on Friday night, struck powerfully down the middle to get things rolling.
Immediately from kick-off former Middlesbrough midfielder Dean Whitehead gifted Ramirez possession when his attempted pass to full-back Tom Smith went straight to the red shirt.
Ramirez, with acres of space in front of him, darted straight at the Huddersfield goal. He rounded Steer comfortably before finding the roof of the empty net with a tidy finish from the left of goal.
Huddersfield tried to make a fight of it for a large part of the second half, but the home side's goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos was rarely tested except for when he comfortably gathered a free-kick from Joe Lolley.
Ramirez almost created the next goal, when his excellent run and pass was perfect for Adomah who was denied by Steer when it seemed Middlesbrough would score.
But he delivered the next goal himself when he curled in a scintillating free-kick from 25 yards to put the game to bed and to leave Huddersfield deflated and defeated.