Birmingham 1-2 Middlesbrough: Britt Assombalonga seals late win for Boro
Lewis Wing and Britt Assombalonga strike either side of Che Adams at St Andrew's.
Last Updated: 12/01/19 6:57pm
Middlesbrough consolidated their Championship play-off spot with a hard-earned away success at Birmingham.
Lewis Wing was on the mark with a neat 37th-minute goal for the visitors but battling Birmingham hit back with Che Adams' 79th-minute equaliser, only for Boro to pick themselves up three minutes later and win it through substitute Britt Assombalonga.
It was only Birmingham's second Championship home defeat in 19 games and it was a reverse which was hardly a reflection on their committed performance.
Middlesbrough may have run riot in defeating Peterborough in the FA Cup, but their prolific scoring form deserted them in a blood-and-thunder start.
When Boro discovered a way through Birmingham's rearguard, Jordan Hugill made a hash of the opportunity. George Saville set up the opening but Hugill miserably misfired wide from a very good position.
The on-loan West Ham striker could not be faulted for effort and he gave Michael Morrison and Harlee Dean a torrid time in an attempt to break the deadlock.
He came in for heavy treatment from the Birmingham defenders and as a result referee Graham Scott was questioned by Boro skipper George Friend.
Almost immediately Birmingham's Maikel Kieftenbeld collected the first booking of the game for a rash tackle on Mo Besic as the game suddenly became more physical.
A fired-up Hugill then had a shot knocked down and Dael Fry latched onto the loose ball, only to see Kristian Pedersen block his effort on the line.
This concentrated pressure finally paid a rich dividend for Boro when Saville's cross from the right was tapped in at the far post by Wing for his third goal of the season.
Nine minutes into the second half there was a controversial incident when Adams appeared to be tripped in the penalty area, only for the referee to book the Birmingham player for diving.
Only the woodwork saved Boro in the 60th minute when Dean's close range header from a Jota free-kick crashed against the post.
With Birmingham striving for an equaliser, Darren Randolph had to show some international form to save a Lukas Jutkiewicz blockbuster through a crowded Middlesbrough defence.
The Blues deservedly levelled in the 79th minute when Adams played a one-two with Jutkiewicz and fired a raking drive past Randolph.
But Birmingham's joy was shortlived as Assombalonga, who had replaced Hugill, scored a breakaway goal in the 82nd minute.
Garry Monk: "When the team sheets came out and we saw they had four defenders and five in midfield, we were fully aware they would be a difficult team to break down. In the first half we got caught up with some of the decisions which were constantly happening. The tempo of the game was not what we wanted.
"With the quality they have they defend very well and are difficult to play against. But I thought we were fantastic in the second half, when the character of the lads was outstanding when we pushed for the equaliser. Unfortunately for us we should have dealt with a simple ball through the middle and we were punished when they scored the winner. It was very harsh on the players to play so well and get nothing from the game."
Tony Pulis: "We were by far the better team in the first half. I know we should have had two penalties in the first half so instead of being one up at half-time we should have been three up at least.
"In the second half they played very direct. I've nothing against that because that is the way they play. They have two good forwards, Adams and (Lukas) Jutkiewicz, up there and they put us under enormous pressure. We defended extremely well and when they equalised it was going to be tough. But it was a terrific through ball from Wing and Assombalonga finished with aplomb."