Middlesbrough 0 Aston Villa 3

Aston Villa boosted their hopes of qualifying for Europe with a decisive win over a brittle Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.

On the evidence of this performance, Middlesbrough lack a natural goalscorer and that could keep them in the relegation fight until the end of the season.

Middlesbrough were unlucky to be a goal down just before the break as they had played with purpose and spirit and, on balance, they arguably deserved to be ahead.

There was no prospect however of Middlesbrough pulling the game around because of their lack of a cutting edge and Villa piled on the agony in the second half.

Villa goalkeeper Scott Carson was not really tested after his horrendous gaffe on his competitive debut for England at Wembley earlier in the week.

Boro welcomed the return of Jonathan Woodgate to their defence after injury and the return of Adam Johnson in midfield following his loan spell at Watford.

In the opening minutes, Carson saved from Jeremie Aliadiere before Lee Cattermole shot over the bar.

Gabriel Agbonlahor shot across the face of the goal for Villa, although there was not a great deal of excitement or flair in the early stages.

Middlesbrough, heavily criticised in recent games, showed more determination without raising hopes of improving their disappointing goal tally.

Nigel Reo-Coker blasted over the bar for Villa and Cattermole shot wide from over 20 yards for the home side.

In first-half stoppage time, Villa snatched the lead from Gareth Barry's left-wing cross.

John Carew held off central defender David Wheater to shoot into the corner of the net from close range.

On balance, the goal was a little cruel on the home side but Villa rubbed salt into the wounds immediately after the break following a Cattermole error.

When the young midfield player kicked the ball in the air, he presented Olof Mellberg with an easy scoring chance.

Five minutes later Cattermole was hauled off and Fabio Rochemback introduced as a substitute.

Any hopes of Middlesbrough staging a barn-storming finish collapsed with a 58th minute goal by Agbonlahor.

Carson contributed to the goal with a long clearance from his own penalty area and Agbonlahor evaded Woodgate before shooting into the net with Mark Schwarzer only able to get a hand to the ball.

There was still time for jubilant Villa fans to taunt Boro manager and their former player Gareth Southgate with chants of "Southgate, Southgate, give us a wave" in the closing stages.