Match ends, West Bromwich Albion 0, Middlesbrough 2.
West Bromwich Albion boss Slaven Bilic urged his side to rediscover their "freshness" for the New Year's Day showdown with Leeds United after losing top spot in the Championship following a home defeat by Middlesbrough.
Bilic's men ended 2019 in disappointing fashion as their 14-match unbeaten run was ended by a revitalised Boro side.
Centre-back Daniel Ayala headed home from Lewis Wing's cross, the first serious attempt on goal in the game, and Ashley Fletcher sealed Boro's third successive win with a spectacular late strike.
It meant Albion dropped to second on goal difference as rivals Leeds won 5-4 in a thrilling contest just five miles away at Birmingham City.
"We've got to pick ourselves up and come back as soon as possible to where we were a few weeks ago," Billic told BBC WM 95.6.
"Are we a little bit tired? Yes, we are. But the whole league is a little bit tired. We have to get that freshness back. A few of the games recently we haven't started well enough.
"The good news is that we have a big game, massive game (against Leeds) in a couple of days' time. It's a great opportunity for us in front of the home crowd to make up for what we missed today.
"It's an ideal game to show the character, to show the quality, to show the determination, basically to show everything."
The Baggies carried more of a threat in the second half, but Jake Livermore, substitute Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips all had efforts saved by Aynsley Pears as Middlesbrough earned the three points.
The victory was their first in 12 games on the road since Jonathan Woodgate was appointed head coach, following five draws and six defeats.
And it was deserved reward for an enterprising performance against a West Brom side, beaten only once previously this season and featuring Gareth Barry in the starting line-up for the first time since March.
"No, (the performance) wasn't good enough, especially in the first half when we were everything we didn't want to be. We were basically flat," said Bilic.
"We were a bit disjointed, when we didn't have the ball we gave them time, we gave them space to keep the ball. We were nowhere near them.
"We were not good in 50-50 challenges. And up front we simply weren't dangerous enough."
Boro's Marcus Tavernier clipped the bar after Ayala had given them the lead from close range and Sam Johnstone had to be alert to deny George Saville and Wing.
Austin was brought on at half-time by Albion, who had only won one of their four previous games, and he tested Pears with a header from Darnell Furlong's cross before being booked for a foul on Adam Clayton.
But Boro continued to look dangerous on the break and Fletcher received Saville's knockdown before giving Johnstone no chance with a dipping 30-yard shot as Boro climbed three places to 16th, nine points adrift of the play-off places.
Middlesbrough head coach Jonathan Woodgate told BBC Tees:
"I think it was a top performance by every single one of the players. We deserved the win, we deserved to get that result today.
"I said to the players before the game, the teams who have come here and got results are Reading, Barnsley, Charlton and Brentford and we've beaten three of those teams.
"If you don't believe you can win in sport, there's no point in doing it."
- 2FurlongBooked at 82mins
- 36FergusonSubstituted forTownsendat 45'minutes
- 18BarrySubstituted forKrovinovicat 60'minutes
- 8LivermoreBooked at 57mins
- 10PhillipsBooked at 69mins
- 12Costa Pereira
- 21EdwardsSubstituted forAustinat 45'minutesBooked at 72mins
- 16HowsonBooked at 48mins
- 33CoulsonBooked at 85mins
- 29SpenceBooked at 69minsSubstituted forJohnsonat 78'minutes
- 26WingSubstituted forGestedeat 87'minutes
- Geoff Eltringham
- Shots on Target
Second Half ends, West Bromwich Albion 0, Middlesbrough 2.
Goal! West Bromwich Albion 0, Middlesbrough 2. Ashley Fletcher (Middlesbrough) right footed shot from outside the box to the centre of the goal. Assisted by George Saville with a headed pass.
Foul by Charlie Austin (West Bromwich Albion).
Aynsley Pears (Middlesbrough) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Filip Krovinovic (West Bromwich Albion).
Adam Clayton (Middlesbrough) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Dangerous play by Semi Ajayi (West Bromwich Albion).
Marcus Tavernier (Middlesbrough) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Matheus Pereira (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Jonny Howson (Middlesbrough).
Corner, West Bromwich Albion. Conceded by Hayden Coulson.
Substitution, Middlesbrough. Rudy Gestede replaces Lewis Wing.
Hayden Coulson (Middlesbrough) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Hayden Coulson (Middlesbrough).
Attempt blocked. Hayden Coulson (Middlesbrough) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Corner, Middlesbrough. Conceded by Sam Johnstone.
Attempt saved. Marvin Johnson (Middlesbrough) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Marcus Tavernier.
Attempt saved. Charlie Austin (West Bromwich Albion) header from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Matheus Pereira with a cross.