Birmingham City 0-1 Middlesbrough Five Things: Boro’s knowhow the difference

Patrick Bamford –

Patrick Bamford’s first half goal gave promotion-contenders Middlesbrough a 1-0 win at St Andrews, piling the pressure on strugglers Birmingham City. Here’s five things from the game.

Birmingham’s early breakaways

The hosts had the galvanizing effect of a new manager in Garry Monk, so it was not a great surprise that they attacked at a high-tempo in the first half hour. Wide men Jota and Jacques Maghoma posed threats; the former turned George Friend in the box only to find the side netting on 19 minutes, moments after the latter teed up Craig Gardner for a long-range shot that was well-saved by Darren Randolph. The goalkeeper though didn’t have to face any clear cut chances on his return to his old stomping ground: Daniel Ayala kept Che Adams quiet while Adam Clayton dropped deep from midfield to deny target man Lukasz Jutkiewicz much space.

Traore drove Boro on

10 members of Tony Pulis’ side could be criticized of lacking invention in possession but Adama Traore, alone, made up for that. The right winger got in behind Maxime Colin on countless occasions and his unstoppable pace encouraged the visiting midfield further up the pitch, which was key to a crescendo of pressure late in the half. After moving to the left, the ex-Villa man’s 39th minute cross found it’s way to Patrick Bamford, who had the composure to take a quick touch at the back-post before firing home. The 24-year-old, who was questionably unmarked by centre-backs Michael Morrison and Harlee Dean, grabbed his seventh goal in a fortnight with ruthlessness Birmingham lacked.

Blues’ aptitude for pressing

Ball-winner Maikel Kieftenbeld showed the aggression to trigger second half pressing periods from the home side. The intensity of Birmingham’s work without the ball though gave them credence that their work with it didn’t necessarily merit. Jota struggled in tighter areas after the break, Morrison looked uncomfortable playing out from the back while left-back Maxime Colin’s right-footed preferences occasionally slowed play down. Substitute Sam Gallagher, a willing runner in the final half-hour, had the best opening, half-turning Ben Gibson before shooting wide of the far post from the edge of the box.

Smoggies going up?

Birmingham’s problems should be attributed, in part, to the impressive organization of Middlesbrough, who slowed the game down when needed and managed proceedings well. While away fans watching their team protecting a slender injury-time lead might typically be biting fingernails, Boro supporters sung Pulis’ name with unerring buoyance. The Teessiders clearly have renewed belief with 10 points from their last four games, which puts them in prime position to gazump the once vacant-looking final play-off spot.

Monk must have faith

The new Blues boss has overseen a performance that represents an improvement on the preceding six games, but not necessarily one good enough to dig his side out of trouble. Step one was to put together eleven players battling for one another for 90 minutes – which should be a given at St Andrews but hasn’t been recently – and Tuesday night’s signs are that first step has been made. Step two for Monk though will be to get that side using the ball with quality, imagination and ruthlessness in the final third – that second step will define his tenure.