Middlesbrough 1 Derby County 0

Middlesbrough earned three precious points in their fight to pull away from the relegation zone.

Yet Boro made heavy weather against bottom of the league Derby County, who could finish with the lowest points in Premier League history.

Middlesbrough fans were in fact relieved at the final whistle. After being outplayed in the first half, Derby came more into the game after the break and Eddie Lewis missed a glorious equalising chance in the closing minutes.

Boro manager Gareth Southgate must have been exasperated with the performance of his team after outstanding performances at Aston Villa and Arsenal.

The overall standard of play was disappointing. Middlesbrough misplaced many passes and Derby failed to test goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

Derby skipper Robbie Savage received lengthy treatment after ten minutes following a strong George Boateng tackle, before the quality of play was affected by a swirling wind.

Middlesbrough went ahead after 32 minutes through Turkey international Tuncay. Boateng provided a pass from the left wing with Tuncay providing a brilliant finish.

Stewart Downing was also prominent for Middlesbrough in the early stages, as Derby struggled to get into the game and Middlesbrough should have built on their lead.

Kenny Miller shot wide in a rare Rams attack and Derby only forced their first corner of the game after 46 minutes.

For Middlesbrough Jeremie Aliadiere headed wide from a Gary O'Neil free-kick.

Shortly after Derby goalkeeper Roy Carroll made a brilliant save from a Boateng piledriver. Boateng got plenty of power behind a shot destined for the top corner of the net, only for Carroll to make an acrobatic save.

Derby skipper Savage was not the power of old and it was no surprise when he was substituted after 57 minutes. He could have been feeling the effects of Boateng's strong challenge early in the game.

Southgate urged his players forward with the prospect that Derby could snatch a goal.

Derby in fact should have levelled the scores when Andy Todd crossed from the by line and Lewis missed a gilt-edged chance with a header from inside the six-yard box.

After the final whistle Carroll kicked the match ball into the away section of the ground, a gesture to the gallant Derby fans.