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Ledesma strikes again to seal Boro's second win in a row
Full-time: Middlesbrough 1 Burnley 0
THIS has been a year to forget for both Emmanuel Ledesma and Middlesbrough, yet a Boxing Day treat has ensured it could still end on a high personally and collectively on Teesside.
Ledesma – only a month after a worrying time for his family when his 17-month old son, Benjamin, had to be rushed to hospital suffering convulsions – has been out of the first team picture at the Riverside Stadium.
But today, just days after grabbing his first goal of the season at Millwall, the skilful Argentine marked his first league start of the campaign with the winner against Championship title contenders Burnley.
Ledesma's audacious attempt from more than 25 yards in the 24th minute proved to be the difference during an exciting encounter for the 20,000-plus fans that turned up in the hope of some more festive cheer.
The 25-year-old looked reinvigorated and at the centre of almost everything positive for a Middlesbrough team which has cut the gap to the play-offs to nine points ahead of Sunday's visit of Reading.
The third victory of the Aitor Karanka reign was the second inside a week and ensured Middlesbrough claimed back-to-back league wins for the first time in 2013.
The last 12 months have been a disaster, but another favourable outcome against Reading should at least lay some healthy foundations for the year ahead.
The effects of winning at Millwall last weekend were evident. Even if Karanka made three changes to that team, Middlesbrough looked hungry for a repeat both in and out of possession.
Ledesma, one of those introduced from the start, was the main orchestrator of the invention and will be high in his manager's thinking heading for the new year.
The South American, signed from Walsall in July last year on a free, replaced the injured Mustapha Carayol. There was also a recall for Jonathan Woodgate at the heart of the defence after shrugging off a thigh problem, while Lukas Jutkiewicz was preferred to young striker Curtis Main at the top of the side.
Everything fell in to place. Whenever Burnley did push on they found Middlesbrough's defence, well marshalled by Woodgate, solid and capable of keeping Burnley's 27-goal strikeforce at bay.
When the Clarets, needing a win to stay at the top of the Championship, did fashion an opening, goalkeeper Shay Given was in focused mood.
His first great save from Sam Vokes would not have counted anyway, but his second was sensational and would have. The Irishman somehow tipped over a header from Danny Ings, who has 17 goals this season, destined for the net.
By that time Middlesbrough had deservedly claimed the lead and the only surprise was that their promising play was only rewarded with the one goal.
The first clear-cut chance was when the bright Albert Adomah darted down the line and saw his cross to the back post headed wide from inside the six yard box by the head of Jutkiewicz.
There had also been early glimpses of the confidence flowing through Ledesma when a couple of his deliveries deserved better.
Ledesma, whose goal at Millwall came from very little, showed his willingness to shoot on sight when Middlesbrough counter-attacked following a great block from Dean Whitehead.
On that occasion the winger's shot flew wide, but his next landed just where he wanted it to. When Marvin Emnes rolled the ball inside for him, Burnley were slow to react to his presence.
Ledesma might have been fully 30 yards out, but he was invited to take a few steps forward and try his luck. He did just that and the power of his drive gathered pace off the bounce and flew straight inside goalkeeper Tom Heaton's left hand post.
Heaton should be frustrated to have been beaten in that manner, although nothing should be taken away from the Middlesbrough man for having his cheek to try his luck rewarded with the opening goal.
Occasionally his tendency to go for the difficult option was the wrong move, but he was what made Middlesbrough tick almost every time they moved forward.
After the restart Middlesbrough still looked the better of the two teams and continued to thwart Burnley when Sean Dyche's men made significant progress towards Given's goal.
At the other end Middlesbrough also had more attempts on goal. Jutkiewicz went close with a couple – the first of those was a shot from distance which flew just over – before Ledesma almost grabbed his second.
After cutting in from the right, he again found himself in space and this time he went for the curled option, the bounce taking it inches wide of Heaton's far post.
As the minutes ticked by Burnley showed greater urgency to find a leveller. That should have arrived ten minutes from time, too.
When Keith Treacy got beyond George Friend, his cross was perfect under the bar. Yet somehow Dean Marney, under close attention from red shirts, managed to direct his header over the woodwork when it looked easier to score.
Given then had to be alert to deny a long-range Junior Stanislas drive at his end, while Adomah almost capped the victory off in stoppage time with a second.
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