Middlesbrough eased to a convincing win against play-off hopefuls Reading.
Albert Adomah drilled in an early opener for Boro and Grant Leadbitter added a second before the break.
The Royals' job became harder when defender Kaspars Gorkss was sent off early in the second half after receiving a second yellow card.
Leadbitter scored his second from the penalty spot in the final 10 minutes when Reading centre-back Alex Pearce fouled Emmanuel Ledesma in the box.
The result was the third Championship loss in a row for the Royals during a disappointing Christmas period, following previous defeats by
Those results have seen them drop to ninth, a point adrift of the play-off positions.
Middlesbrough have lost just one of their last 11 matches at the Riverside. Only Brighton have triumphed there since the opening day of the season.
Conversely, Middlesbrough have excelled in the festive season, winning games against
to stretch away from the relegation zone.
Boro's superior form showed from the start, with Adomah firing in after receiving a Lukas Jutkiewicz nod down in the 12th minute. A second followed before the interval as Leadbitter hammered home from 25 yards.
The Royals' fightback at the start of the second period was dealt a serious blow as Gorkss fouled Ledesma to collect a second booking.
Initially undaunted by the setback, Garath McCleary and Billy Sharp went close before the hosts regained control of the match.
After Adomah shot narrowly over, Boro sealed another triumph for
head coach Aitor Karanka
when Leadbitter slotted home from 12 yards after Ledesma was felled.
Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka:
"I am not getting carried away yet. It is important for a team to win two or three games in a row. It gives you momentum and moves you up the table.
"But if anyone thinks that gives us anything they are wrong. We have won nothing yet.
"I still want more from my team, from individuals and from the group, there is still room to improve. It shows that we are capable of winning games and playing well, now we have to work harder to do that every game."
Reading manager Nigel Adkins:
"We have not been anywhere near good enough today, we can't hide from that fact. We started brightly but Middlesbrough countered well to score the first and I'm a bit disappointed with some of the decisions from the referee.
"Kaspars Gorkss has been sent off and I'm not sure the first was a booking and for the second he didn't even touch the player. Was there a foul in the build-up to the second? Maybe. And the penalty seemed a bit harsh too.
"But no excuses, we weren't good enough to be where we want to be and that is pushing for the Premier League. We know we need to strengthen in January and we have had injuries but that performance was nowhere near good enough - and it's my responsibility to deal with it."
- 12 Given
- 08 Varga
- 03 Friend
- 18 Whitehead Booked
- 26 Ayala
- 22 Gibson
- 11 Ledesma (Butterfield - 88' )
- 07 Leadbitter Booked
- 09 Jutkiewicz (Main - 63' )
- 10 Emnes Booked (Carayol - 81' )
- 27 Adomah
- 04 Williams
- 06 Butterfield
- 13 Konstantopoulos
- 15 Hines
- 19 Carayol
- 23 Main
- 33 Smallwood
- 21 McCarthy
- 02 Gunter
- 24 Cummings
- 23 Williams
- 05 Pearce Booked
- 17 Gorkss Dismissed after an earlier booking
- 12 McCleary (Kelly - 78' )
- 20 Guthrie
- 07 Pogrebnyak
- 14 Sharp (Blackman - 70' )
- 11 McAnuff Booked
- 01 Federici
- 03 Kelly
- 09 Le Fondre
- 16 Akpan
- 19 Robson-Kanu
- 22 Blackman
- 25 Taylor
Ref: Paul Tierney