Jordan Hugill hurt both himself and Middlesbrough’s hopes of Championship survival with a brilliantly lobbed winner for Queens Park Rangers at the Riverside.
Hugill’s final touch of the game proved to be both sublime and decisive just after the half-hour mark, lifting the ball over Boro goalkeeper Dejan Stojanovic with a half-volley from 25 yards.
Neil Warnock’s Boro pressed in the second half but failed to find an equaliser to lift them out of the bottom three.
Lukas Nmecha wastefully prodded the best chance to rescue a point over the bar late on, as QPR hung on to pick up their first points since the Championship’s restart after the coronavirus pandemic-enforced break.
Victory for Stoke against fellow strugglers Barnsley on Saturday saw Boro slip into the bottom three ahead of Rangers’ visit and what was Warnock’s first home game in charge of the Teessiders.
And there they remain, one point adrift of Hull in 21st place, with five games remaining.
Hugill fires Hoops to brink of safety
QPR had resumed the campaign in June just six points adrift of the play-off places, but following three successive defeats they travelled to the north east just six points above the drop zone.
Ambitions of challenging for promotion had been dented in recent weeks, and any further points dropped would have seen Mark Warburton’s side dragged into an already tight relegation fight.
A wayward cross from Todd Kane that forced Boro goalkeeper Stojanovic to backpedal and tip the ball over the bar was Rangers’ first effort on goal at the Riverside.
At the other end Joe Lumley was called into action twice in 40 seconds by Boro’s two strikers midway through the first half – first by Britt Assombalonga from distance before an angled Ashley Fletcher effort at the near post demanded a smart save from the 25-year-old keeper.
A moment of indecisiveness from Hugill just after the half-hour mark saw a huge chance go to waste for the visitors – the on-loan West Ham forward taking a touch too many as he raced through on goal, allowing George Friend to apply pressure on a shot that Stojanovic did well to smother.
There was no such hesitation from Hugill a minute later, as he lifted his 15th goal of the season over the Boro goalkeeper with a sensational first-time finish after meeting a fine diagonal ball from Ryan Manning.
Rather than mark the goal with celebrations, the Middlesbrough-born striker immediately went to ground clutching his hamstring. He limped off the pitch before it restarted, with Ilias Chair coming on as his replacement.
QPR, a side that had managed to score just one goal in the three defeats leading up to the trip to the Riverside, pressed for a second before the break, but Stojanovic easily dealt with a shot from Chair and was equal to a dangerous free-kick from Manning.
Boro laboured to seriously threaten the Londoners after the interval, with Nmecha’s late chance after meeting a low Jonny Howson cross as close as they came to salvaging a point.