Middlesbrough 1-0 Birmingham: Britt Assombalonga hits winner for Boro
Britt Assombalonga scores the only goal at the Riverside Stadium
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 11/08/18 7:37pm
Middlesbrough maintained their fine start to the season with a 1-0 win over Birmingham, a victory that would have been more comprehensive had they been more clinical.
They remain unbeaten having drawn 2-2 at Millwall a week ago and followed Tuesday's 3-0 win over Sheffield United with another three-point haul thanks to an early goal by Britt Assombalonga.
Boro hit the woodwork twice and spurned other opportunities, but having been solid in defence and rarely in danger of conceding Tony Pulis will be satisfied with his team's display.
But for Birmingham's former Boro manager Garry Monk it was a day to forget, as it was for Craig Gardner who was red-carded in the closing stages.
Assombalonga scored in the 13th minute, curling the ball home from the left side of the penalty area with his right foot.
It took a slight deflection off visiting right-back Maxime Colin, enough to take it away from goalkeeper Connal Trueman, but there was no doubting the goal will be credited Assombalonga, who had received possession after a superbly-weighted pass by Jonny Howson.
In the seconds prior to the strike there had been a brief moment of alarm for Boro, Jacques Maghoma's cross being flicked away by George Friend close to goal, but thereafter Pulis' side looked in control.
Assombalonga had another chance, Michael Morrison flinging himself at the ball to block the resulting shot, and after a set-piece, Ryan Shotton and Stewart Downing got in each other's way in the penalty area when a shooting opportunity presented itself.
Boro were better all over the pitch, smothering any attacks that came their way and again went close to going further ahead when Downing struck the inside of the post with a 20-yard free-kick.
The second goal Middlesbrough merited should have come just before the break, but this time Assombalonga hit the post after latching on to Martin Braithwaite's back-heel.
During the early stages of the second half came a rare chance for Birmingham. Kristian Pedersen's cross was headed towards goal by striker Lukas Jutkiewicz, but Darren Randolph pushed it wide, the underemployed goalkeeper saving comfortably.
However, at the other end there was a clanger by Trueman that almost cost his side a second goal. He misjudged Shotton's long throw and the ball bounced back off the underside of the bar with the goalkeeper able to claim it at the second attempt amid a clutch of bodies.
Boro then missed two more chances in quick succession. Howson created space for himself but saw his shot cleared off the line by Morrison and, with Birmingham unable to clear, Howson headed across goal for Assombalonga, but at a stretch he poked wide.
In in the 82nd minute Gardner was sent off after a challenge on Howson in the middle of Birmingham's half when competing for a loose ball, completing a miserable day for the visitors.
Tony Pulis: "I thought it was a game that we could have won and should have won by five or six goals. The chances and opportunities that we created during were absolutely outstanding. I think we've hit the bar twice, we've hit the post twice, we've had one cleared off the line.
"There's been a melee a couple of times where it could have easily dropped for us. Jonny's missed a chance because Stewart's got in the way, Stewart's missed a chance because Jonny's got in the way. We're waiting for the whistle at the end but really and truthfully the game should have been buried."
Garry Monk: A lot of endeavour and fight and commitment but it is a league that demands you be on your game from the start and, especially away from home against one of the better teams with the demands on them to get promotion, you have to be on your game and in the first half we were not.
"We caused our own problems. It was 1-0 and they could have maybe scored another to be honest."