Middlesbrough 1-0 Accrington Stanley: Match Report
Stewart Downing goal lifts Middlesbrough past Accrington
Forgotten man Stewart Downing blasted Middlesbrough into the FA Cup fifth round as League Two Accrington finally succumbed at the Riverside Stadium.
Downing, who has opted to stay on Teesside and fight for his place after being linked with a January loan move, drilled home from distance with 69 minutes gone to remind head coach Aitor Karanka of his enduring quality and dash Stanley's hopes of a replay.
The 1-0 win was no more than the Premier League side deserved, although they made hard work of it in front of a crowd of 24,040.
Boro went into the game desperate to avoid a repeat of their Capital One Cup defeat by Accrington at the same venue in August 2013, but a side featuring seven changes from last weekend's league loss against West Ham was unable to make its dominance of possession count before the break.
With full-back Fabio on the right and winger Viktor Fischer on the left finding space, and Grant Leadbitter and Downing seeing plenty of the ball through the middle, they worked themselves into good positions but, for the most part, were unable to find a telling final ball.
As Patrick Bamford, a January signing from Chelsea, started to work his way into the game on his second debut for the club, gaps began to appear but were not exploited to the full.
Fischer only just failed to convert from Downing's 18th-minute free-kick and the former England international curled a shot just wide after the Dane's initial effort had been blocked seconds later.
Bamford saw a 36th-minute effort deflected wide after good work by Downing and Fischer forced a regulation save from keeper Marek Rodak on the stroke of half-time, but that was as good as it got for the home side.
Indeed, their League Two opponents had chances of their own, with central defender Omar Beckles heading over from a 14th-minute Sean McConville corner and Dean Clare forcing a block from keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos seven minutes before the break.
Stanley might have taken the lead in first-half stoppage time when Clare crossed to the near post, where striker Billy Kee only just failed to make contact.
Bamford saw a 50th-minute strike loop up off defender Janoi Donacien before it was plucked from beneath the crossbar by Rodak, and then forced a block from Mark Hughes as he bore down on goal five minutes later.
McConville called upon Konstantopoulos after cutting inside Fabio on the hour, but the traffic was heading largely in the other direction and the deadlock was finally broken with 69 minutes gone when Downing smashed a long-range drive into Rodak's top right corner.
Rodak made fine saves from Rudy Gestede and substitutes Cristhian Stuani and Adama Traore as time ran down but, in the meantime, McConville might have snatched a replay with a stooping 83rd-minute header, only to miss the target from close range.