Middlesbrough 5 Birmingham 3
By Graeme Bailey
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Many thought this game had 0-0 written all over it, but it turned out to be the game of the day in The Premiership.
The game burst into life after just five minutes when Boro scored with their first attack of the game.
Juninho ran at the heart of the Birmingham defence and sucked in three players before squaring the ball for Gaizka Mendieta who lashed a first-time effort past Maik Taylor and in off the right hand post.
Mendieta could have added to that soon after, while Mikael Forssell showed his class with a turn on the edge of the area - but his effort deflected safely into Mark Schwarzer's hands.
Massimo Maccarone then put Boro 2-0 up after 21 minutes when the magical Mendieta latched onto Joseph Desire-Job's flick-on and took the ball into the six-yard box before squaring for the Italian who made no mistake from close range.
Boro's concentration then lapsed as Danny Mills's was robbed of the ball by Stan Lazaridis and the Australian found Forssell on the edge of the area and his turn and shot found its way past Schwarzer, albeit via a slight deflection of Ugo Ehiogu.
Again just seven minutes later Boro found the visitors defence lacking as Mills headed down Mendieta's out-swinging corner for captain Gareth Southgate - who lashed home his first goal of the season from five yards.
Birmingham could have easily given the game up at this point, but with Forssell in brilliant form they were always going to have chances.
The ubiquitous Finn hit the post after 38 minutes and then he almost set-up Bryan Hughes after an Ehiogu error - but the Liverpudlian saw his effort well saved by Schwarzer.
Birmingham then grabbed another back - which their pressure deserved when Forssell turned and fired in a low drive which Schwarzer could only parry to Clinton Morrison who turned the ball in from two yards.
Despite the goal coming on the stroke of half time, the action was not over as Maccarone added a fourth when he picked up Mendieta's excellent cross field ball and turned Martin Taylor in the area before looping a cracking right footed effort into Taylor's far corner.
The second half started at a tedious pace compared to the first, but again it was that man Forssell who dragged his team back into the game.
Grainger - whose set-pieces caused Boro problems all day - curled in a free kick from Boro's right and Forssell flicked the ball on to Schwarzer's left hand post, but just when the effort looked to be bouncing clear the Aussie palmed the ball into his own net.
Boro then introduced Stewart Downing as Steve McClaren's men failed to find the form they produced in abundance during the opening 45 minutes.
Maccarone caught Birmingham cold and broke clear and Matthew Upson seemed very fortunate to not see red as Uriah Rennie waved play on - despite the fact the young Italian looked to have been dragged back.
However, it was Birmingham again looking the most likely and Forssell had a great chance to level with 20 minutes left as he jinked his way into the area past a static Boro defence and only a Schwarzer save kept the home side ahead.
Mendieta - Middlesbrough's best player by a considerable margin - then lashed a Franck Queudrue cross wide as Boro were limited to half chances.
Boro decided to go with one man up-front and try and absorb anything Birmingham could throw at them and that tactic seemed to take the steam out of the away side.
Forssell had a half chance with eight minutes remaining but he could only flick Lazaridis's header wide.
The Australian then had a good chance as the Blues pushed on but his drive across goal was parried by his fellow countryman Schwarzer.
Birmingham were throwing everything at Boro as they looked for an equaliser, but it was the home side who claimed the final goal to seal maximum points.
Upson made a hash of his headed clearance and Szilard Nemeth pounced on to the ball and took it past Taylor. He had to bring the ball back from the by-line and took it past two more challenges before hammering it into the empty net.
Boro will feel they deserved the win after a brilliant first half display, but Birmingham will know they could easily have taken something from the game.