Boro dealt blow by battling Blues


Birmingham 2-2 Middlesbrough –

Daniel Ayala’s wrongly-disallowed late goal means Middlesbrough have dropped two points in their quest for automatic promotion, after a thrilling 2-2 draw at Birmingham. Jordan Rhodes and Gaston Ramirez profited from poor home defending for their goals, while Stephen Gleeson and David Davis scored powerful strikes for the Blues. Either side could have won a pulsating game filled with goalmouth action.

Early on, Boro saw a lot of the ball and approached the final third with relative ease, but were not given space inside the box. Given the defensive mentality with which Birmingham started, Clayton Donaldson suffered from a lack of support.

He grew more involved after a quarter of the game however, at times drifting out to the left to combine with Diego Fabbrini. The Italian showed good movement and typically delicate footwork along with a newly-found roughness to his game.

The match assumed an end-to-end feel as two point-blank Adam Legzdins saves from Rhodes sandwiched a close-range Donaldson effort, which was held by Dimitros Konstantopoulos. The score remained 0-0 but both keepers were increasingly active. Birmingham scored the opener through Gleeson. With Boro’s midfield out of position and their defence slow to press, the former MK Dons midfielder unleashed a rocket of a shot that flew into the net.

Middlesbrough responded well. Much of their play came down the right via Albert Adomah, who linked up well with full-back Emiliano Nsue, the former’s tight-angled shot stopped by Legdzins. The goalkeeper, replacing the injured Tomasz Kuzczack, was enjoying an impressive first half, but that was until the 40 minute mark. The former Derby stopper spilled Grant Leadbitter’s free-kick into the path of Rhodes, who showed his poachers instinct by bundling the ball home.

That was a blow for Birmingham, but they started the second half well and implemented their pressing game, Maikel Kieftenbeld providing aggression in midfield. They looked dangerous from set pieces and Ryan Shotton could have scored twice from two David Cotterill deliveries, in the space of three minutes.

Dead ball specialist Cotterill enjoyed an impressive second half. He caused problems for an uncomfortable Ritchie De Laet, calling into question Aitor Karanka’s omission of a more natural left-back in James Husband. What then ensued (not Nsue’d) was a period of Boro pressure which led to a goalmouth scramble, as Rhodes hit the post from close-range, then inadvertently blocked Adomah’s shot before Ramirez fired over.

The Uruguayan played well, allying natural trickery with a combative edge and he put the visitors in front on 57 minutes. Adomah’s cross to the back-post was knocked across by Rhodes and Ramirez nodded the ball home.

Middlesbrough have not lost a game from a winning position this season and excel at defending leads. However, that did not faze Birmingham, who continued to press forward. Ayala headed away Paul Caddis’ right-wing cross but the defence did not close down Davis, who lashed a low shot home.

Ayala nearly had the final say when his superb drive looked to have put the guests in front moments later, but his goal was ruled offside. Replays show it was the wrong decision and one which could cost Boro in their fight for automatic promotion. Either side could have nicked a winner in the closing stages, Fabbrini heading over from six yards out before the commanding Leadbitter had a shot which cannoned off the bar.

That let-off means Birmingham came away with the point their performance merited in their final home game, as Gary Rowett applauded the Tilton for the last time this season. Boro will not be as content with the draw. They now need to beat Brighton on the final day to be sure of automatic promotion, and Premier League football for the first time in seven years – no pressure, lads.