Ten-man Middlesbrough have slipped back out of the play-offs with a 2-1 defeat to promotion rivals Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
Lee Evans volleyed the home side in front within minutes of the start and Boro midfielder Grant Leadbitter was later sent-off following a couple of yellow cards.
Then with five minuets of the opening period remaining, Evans produced another incisive finish to double the advantage; while Daniel Ayala’s second-half reply wasn’t enough to spark a later fightback.
The visitors were unchanged from their weekend victory against Nottingham Forest but immediately witnessed Evans on target from around 25-yards after failing to clear.
Blades keeper Simon Moore next collected from both Ayala and Patrick Bamford while Leon Clarke could only reply weakly at Darren Randolph when breaking away.
Boro’s hopes suffered a real blow with Leadbitter suddenly dismissed having been cautioned twice in quick succession.
And it was about to get worse after Evans struck first-time into the bottom corner to register his second of the contest from David Brooks’ delivery.
That brought about a triple substitution from manager Tony Pulis at the interval, with Britt Assombalonga, Adam Clayton and the recently fit-again Fabio joining the action.
The visitors were instantly rewarded when Ben Gibson helped on a free-kick for Ayala to produce a low, angled finish and reduce the deficit.
Midfielder Jonny Howson then narrowly cleared the target from distance before later curling a second attempt wide – but unfortunately no equaliser was to be forthcoming.
Sheffield United: Moore, Basham, Wright (Duffy 73), O’Connell, Baldock, Lundstram (Leonard 90), Evans, Fleck, Stevens, Brooks (Donaldson 86), Clarke
subs (unused): Sharp, Lafferty, Holmes, Eastwood
Goals: Evans (2, 40)
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Howson, Leadbitter, Besic (Clayton 46), Traore (Fabio 46), Bamford (Assombalonga 46), Downing
subs (unused): Konstantopoulos, Cranie, Fry, Harrison
Goals: Ayala (48)
Ref: D. Bond