CHERRIES recovered from an early second-half wobble to battle past Middlesbrough and continue their charge towards the play-offs.

The hosts deservedly led at half-time at Vitality Stadium thanks to Philip Billing’s well-taken strike.

But they dropped their intensity after the restart, allowing Boro back in to level through Duncan Watmore.

However, that seemed to wake Cherries up again with Jefferson Lerma’s deflected effort and a Dominic Solanke strike enough to earn a 3-1 win for boss Jonathan Woodgate against the club which sacked him in June.

The win lifts Cherries back up into the Championship’s top six, for a few hours at least, with Reading knowing a point from their contest with Barnsley this evening enough to propel them back into the play-off spots.

Woodgate made three changes from the FA Cup quarter-final defeat almost two weeks ago. Junior Stanislas and Adam Smith returned from injury, while Lerma was available again after suspension. They replaced Rodrigo Riquelme, Jack Stacey and Ben Pearson, who all dropped to the bench.

Lloyd Kelly and Shane Long were also back in the matchday squad, but there was still no place for David Brooks after his ankle injury.

Neil Warnock rang the changes for Boro with five in all from their defeat at Millwall before the international break. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Watmore were among those to come into the starting XI.

Cherries got off to a strong start, popping the ball around nicely on the pristine surface. Arnaut Danjuma picked off a Boro free-kick and burst down the left before picking out Billing on the edge of the box. The Dane teed up Lerma, but the midfielder dragged his shot wide.

Danjuma was the clear outlet for Cherries and it was via him that the hosts broke the deadlock. The Dutchman did well to control a bouncing ball forward from Solanke and flick it through for the marauding Billing. The 24-year-old kept his composure to powerfully fire a left-footed half volley past goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli and into the bottom corner, for his fifth goal of the campaign.

Danjuma was soon on the ball again, skipping away from full-back Darnell Fisher before his shot was blocked by a sliding Grant Hall.

Set pieces were the clear threat from Boro, but Cherries were dealing well with the balls into the box.

However, a cross from the right did cause concern as Neeskens Kebano’s delivery was met by Marc Bola, whose header clipped the crossbar.

Cherries sought a second goal just before the break as Solanke looked to get in beyond the defence, but just as he was about to pull the trigger on the edge of the box, Hall got back to make a vital intervention.

Boro were the first to threaten after the restart as Yannick Bolasie worked half a yard of space to shoot, but his shot towards the top corner cleared the crossbar.

Cherries were growing increasingly sloppy at the back and were forced into their first change of the afternoon on the hour mark. Stanislas headed straight down the tunnel holding his hip and was replaced by Stacey.

Within three minutes, Middlesbrough were level. Bolasie picked out Watmore on the edge of the box, who took a touch before aiming his left-footed shot underneath the slide of Cook and saw it creep into the bottom corner.

That seemed to spark Cherries straight back into life and they quickly got their noses back in front, midway through the half.

Billing got down the left and crossed low towards Lerma. Sam Morsy looked like he would sweep clear the danger, but got the ball stuck under his feet, allowing Lerma to fire at goal. The midfielder’s strike then hit Morsy, which took it away from Bettinelli, despite the goalkeeper getting a touch. It was Lerma’s first goal in exactly six months.

And the win was wrapped up with eight minutes to play.

Solanke cut inside and fired at goal. Bettinelli made the stop, but could not hold onto the effort, allowing the striker to nip in and tuck home on the rebound.

Cherries: Begovic; Smith, Carter-Vickers, Cook, Rico; Wilshere (Pearson, 68), Lerma; Stanislas (Stacey, 60), Billing, Danjuma; Solanke (Long, 85).

Unused subs: Mepham, Kelly, Riquelme, Anthony, Surridge, Travers (g/k).

Booked: Billing.

Middlesbrough: Bettinelli; Fisher, Hall, McNair, Bola; Howson, Morsy; Mendez-Laing (Coulson, 69), Kebano (Akpom, 86), Bolasie (Fletcher, 74); Watmore (Johnson, 86).

Unused subs: Spence, Saville, Coburn, Archer (g/k).

Booked: McNair, Bola.

Referee: Simon Hooper.