Adama Traore struck a delightful double to help deliver Middlesbrough a much-needed 2-1 victory over struggling Reading.
The Royals, who had lost three of their last four in the league, lacked a cutting edge until deep in the second half and manager Jaap Stam had to endure defeat again at the Riverside.
Middlesbrough had been far from convincing themselves and had struggled to test Royals goalkeeper Vito Mannone until Traore hit the opener with a minute remaining before the break.
Within a few minutes of the restart the 22-year-old added his second and that should have effectively finished the game as a contest.
Instead Reading were allowed back into it and Chris Martin, signed from Derby before the transfer deadline, pulled one back 12 minutes before the end.
Even though Britt Assomabalonga missed a late penalty for the hosts, Middlesbrough held on.
Middlesbrough - who had not scored a goal in the three previous home league games under Tony Pulis - had to win and they closed the gap to the final play-off spot to four points after Bristol City's dramatic draw with Sunderland.
Sheffield United had increased the pressure on Middlesbrough to claim a home win under Pulis by defeating Leeds in the earlier kick-off.
There was always a sense Reading, with only one win from their previous 10 games in the league, was the ideal opportunity to deliver too, although Stam was able to bring Sone Aluko, Garath McCleary and Liam Kelly back into his side.
Pulis' only change was to bring Jonny Howson in for Adam Clayton, while Rudy Gestede kept his place up front after having the red card he picked up at Norwich overturned at the beginning of the week.
Gestede and the rest of the Middlesbrough forwards struggled to really test former Sunderland goalkeeper Mannone.
The closest they had come before the opening goal was when Stewart Downing volleyed wide from the back post after he had been picked out by Traore's deep delivery.
Traore, by far the most dangerous player on the pitch again for the home side, then took matters into his own hands in the 44th minute.
The former Barcelona man celebrated only his second goal for Middlesbrough when his low drive had too much on it for Mannone to deal with, having created an opening by rounding Leandro Bacuna.
And, after Jon Dadi Bodvarsson headed into the hands of goalkeeper Darren Randolph at one end, Traore grabbed his second at the other soon after.
He darted at the Reading defence before directing a finish inside the far corner with a stunning right-foot drive.
Middlesbrough captain Grant Leadbitter then drilled a 22-yard free-kick at the upright.
But then Reading were allowed back into it when Martin picked out the bottom corner from the edge of the area after being afforded the space to do so.
Despite the best efforts of the visitors, and Assombalonga's late penalty miss, Middlesbrough held on.