Ramírez sinks Hull to give Middlesbrough vital three points
Mike Phelan’s side remain second-bottom as Uruguayan nods Boro four clear of drop
Gaston Ramirez’s header gave Middlesbrough a vital win against Hull City. Photograph: Reuters/ Getty
Gastón Ramírez harbours unhappy memories of Hull City and will doubtless have enjoyed taking his frustrations out on Mike Phelan’s spirited but under-powered team. Dispatched to Humberside on loan by Southampton two years ago, the Uruguayan struggled with injuries and poor form. It took a transfer to Teesside to restore the playmaker to his former glories.
And Ramírez, once again emphasising his importance to Aitor Karanka’s team, headed a second-half winner to lift Middlesbrough four points clear of the relegation zone and towards the sunlit uplands of mid-table security.
It left a Hull side who restricted a dominant Boro to few clear-cut chances, but created next to none of their own, second bottom and heading into a bitter night with their future as unclear as the fog-bound roads heading south to Humberside.
A cautious, cagey opening filled with backwards and sideways passes was briefly enlivened when Alvaro Negredo met Marten de Roon’s lay-off. Around 12 yards out, the Spanish striker was slackly marked but, perhaps unwisely, he elected to shoot first time with the outside of his left foot when he seemed to have time to shift it on to the right. Much to Hull’s relief, the resultant shot arced high over Victor Valdés’s bar.
David Marshall, Hull’s goalkeeper, has one of Valdés’s old Barcelona jerseys in the garage at his home, a souvenir from the night the then teenage Celtic goalkeeper was part of a team that won a European tie against Barça, and he seemed minded to perform a few more heroics. Having reacted well to save Ramírez’s low 25-yard shot and then divert a similar effort from Adam Forshaw, Marshall proved adept at disappointing the Riverside in the first half.
Boro’s improvement in recent weeks has been largely attributable to Karanka’s installation of his other Barcelona old boy, Adama Traoré, wide on the right and there were raised eyebrows when the team-sheet revealed his demotion to the substitutes’ bench.
How Phelan, horribly under-resourced in the attacking department, would relish having that pair at his disposal. Indeed there are strong suggestions that Hull’s manager is extremely keen on taking Rhodes off Boro’s payroll when the transfer window opens next month.
Traoré’s place was taken by Victor Fischer who, deployed on the left, started slowly but thought he had given Boro the lead after turning the ball home following Ramírez’s cross and Negredo’s headed flick. Unfortunately for the Dane that effort was rightly disallowed for a combination of offside and handball.
A viciously curling Fischer shot, deflected for a corner, subsequently confirmed that Karanka’s team were very much in control. They appeared almost affronted when Hull finally escaped their half and looked unprepared for Adama Diomandé’s acceleration on to Markus Henriksen’s pass.
Then, just as Diomandé, shaped to shoot, Ben Gibson slid in to retrieve the situation with a perfectly timed, brilliantly executed tackle. “Ben Gibson, he’s one of our own,” chorused the Teesside crowd as up in the directors’ box Steve Gibson, the club’s owner and the centre half’s uncle, looked on approvingly.
Behind the smiles, Gibson Sr might have been a little concerned by his side’s failure to translate superiority into goals, with the moment when Fischer’s inviting cross struck a startled Negredo on the side of the head seeming symbolic of their attacking travails. Significantly that was a rare cross from a home player – maybe a few more would not have gone amiss.
Possibly this dearth of deliveries from the flanks was down to Ramírez being much more of a No10 than a winger who drifts inside at every opportunity. It also had something to do with Fischer’s struggles to go beyond Ahmed Elmohamady but philosophy comes into it, too; Karanka wants to play in a more between-the-lines way.
In reality Hull’s five-man midfield made fluency difficult in the freezing air of a December night though the game finally defrosted 15 minutes into the second half for a Boro full of dominance but no shots on target when a set piece came to their rescue. Fischer’s corner found Ramírez totally unmarked at the far post and the former Hull loanee’s glancing header defied Marshall. He may not have been operating in his preferred position but Ramirez had been industry personified throughout and deserved his moment of glory.
After Ramírez hobbled off injured to be replaced by Stewart Downing, Hull seemed to have accepted their fate until they suddenly prompted panic among Gibson and company. Valdés saved brilliantly from Diomandé in stoppage time and connecting with the resultant corner, Hull’s lone striker poked the ball narrowly wide as an equaliser beckoned.