RECORD-BREAKING Middlesbrough clawed to the top of the table with a gritty ten-man win at Crystal Palace - but boss Tony Mowbray wasn't impressed.
The table-topping Teessiders nicked a 1-0 win to claim an all-time club record sixth away league victory on the bounce, and continue their impressive unbeaten start to the Championship campaign.
Marvin Emnes scored a cracking goal in the second half of a tight encounter at Selhurst Park then, after Joe Bennett was sent off, the tigerish Teessiders dug in to resist a furious late onslaught.
But despite the sizzling start to the season, cagey Mowbray played down the pacesetters’ premature pole position.
“I don’t put much stock in being top of the table in September, ” he said. “They don’t dish out prizes after seven games.
“Generally the teams who are successful finish the season strongly rather than start it strongly.
“But that said, the more points you accumulate early on the more chance that you have being in the mix, so we have to keep it up.
“It is a double-edged sword though. When you are top you are there to be shot at, its a bigger match for everyone you play and so we will have to deal with that.
“We know there is a long, long way to go. But the longer we can stay unbeaten the more the confidence will grow – and the more fear there may be in opposition.”
Well-organised Palace gave Boro their sternest test of the season so far, sitting deep and flooding the midfield to make it very difficult for Mowbray’s side to play enterprising, counter-attacking football.
In fact, Palace had the bulk of the possession, long spells of pressure and the better of the chances, and one-time Hartlepool man Jermaine Easter brought a superb save keeper Carl Ikeme in the first then rattled the crossbar from close range in the second.
Boro were reduced to ten men with 15 minutes still to play, full-back Bennett given his marching orders after a second yellow, issued for chopping down Palace sub Wilfried Zaha.
It left his side facing a torrid test of their defensive mettle to hold on to the three points.
Mowbray admitted that well drilled Palace – previously unbeaten at home – had forced his side to battle for the three points and hinted that it could be the shape of things to come.
“Resilience, that was the best quality on show, ” he said.
“It wasn’t an open expansive game, it was just about keeping the ball out of our net and credit to the players, they got their bodies in the way and fought for things in midfield.
“Palace smothered the areas we usually play in and made it very, very hard for us. Whether that’s a sign that other teams are picking up on the way we play, I don’t know. If it is then we have to find a way to deal with that. The game was very tight. It had 0-0 written all over it then Marvin scored a great goal. It was the difference.
“He almost had too much time as it looped up and dropped in the box. It showed great technique. A lot of people scuff those or slice it into the stand.”
Boro must return to Palace tomorrow in the Carling Cup with Mowbray ready to throw new loan striker signing Alex Nimely straight into the fray.
“Alex adds options to the front line and he will probably play on Tuesday, ” said the Boro boss. “After that result in the league Palace will probably make a few changes for the cup so it will be another big test.
“But we haven’t been beaten on road this year so will travel with confidence.”
CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Ramage, McCarthy, Tunchev, Moxey, Parr (Murray 68), Jedinak, Wright (Williams 80), Ambrose (Zaha 66), Easter, Scannell. Subs (not used): Price, Gardner.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Ikeme, McMahon, Bates, Haroun (McManus 79), Hoyte, Rhys Williams, Bailey, Robson, Bennett, Emnes, McDonald (Thomson 76). Subs (not used): Zemmama, Kink, Martin.
Goal: Emnes 65.
Sent off: Bennett (75). Booked: Bennett, Robson.
Referee: Gary Sutton (Lincolnshire) Attendance: 15,198