Middlesbrough 2-0 Birmingham City: Assombalonga double deepens Birmingham's troubles

Middlesbrough 2-0 Birmingham City: Assombalonga double deepens Birmingham's troubles

Two goals from Britt Assombalonga gave Middlesbrough a comfortable 2-0 victory over a struggling Birmingham City side.

Danial Kennedy

Middlesbrough continued their ascension towards the play-off places of the Championship table, as two first-half goals from star striker Britt Assombalonga gave them a comfortable 2-0 victory over a struggling Birmingham City

It was all Middlesbrough in the opening minutes of the clash with Martin Braithwaite's half-chance before Assombalonga gave Boro the lead in the 10th minute, the visitors started to come into the game as the half went on with decent opportunities for Jonathan Grounds and Che Adams but a second from Assombalonga assured Boro's lead going into the break. 

The second-half was just as electric as the first in terms of entertainment with half-chances for Braithwaite and Grounds before Fabio clattered the crossbar, Patrick Bamford pushed for his first goal of the season as the half went on but Boro had done enough to secure the three points. 

That man again 

It had been a good start to the Garry Monk era on Teesside with the club in and around the play-off places ahead of kick-off, Monk will have been hurt by Sunday's 2-0 defeat on his return to his old club Leeds United but will have seen Steve Cotterill's struggling Birmingham City as a perfect chance to bounce back. 

It was all go from Boro in the opening minutes with Braithwaite going close inside three minutes but to no avail, Monks' continued to turn the screw on their Midlands opponents and were rewarded with Assombalonga's' tenth of the campaign. 

There were strong appeals for a penalty in the build-up with Braithwaite hitting the deck, but Boro played on with Stewart Downing stinging the palms of Tomasz Kuszczak. The pole could only push the veteran's effort into the air and Assombalonga was alive to the situation to head from close-range on it's way back down to earth. 

Air of a more even affair 

Monk's side took their foot slightly off the gas after their summer signing had given them the lead, and it showed as Cotterill's began to make their mark on the game in the closing stages of the period. 

Daniel Ayala was almost punished in the 27th minute as Birmingham broke from his poor pass through David Davis, the skipper played a ball in from the left which was brought down by Cheikh N'Doye. His first touch escaped him but it fell perfectly for Grounds to have a clean effort on Darren Randolph's goal, if not for Ben Gibson whose sliding challenge blocked the effort. 

Downing then looked to put some daylight between the two side as he cut in from the right and let rip, the effort took a deflection from Grounds on the way through and thankfully for Kuszczak it swerved straight into his chest. 

Birmingham were getting closer and closer to punishing Monk's side with a decent opportunity in the 34th minute, Sam Gallagher did well to head the ball into the dangerzone where Adams was waiting to hit a first-time effort which Randolph saved well at his near-post. The danger wasn't other as the visitors quickly regained possession but N'Doye's header was past the post. 

Giving them some breathing space 

Monk will have been forgiven for being slightly anxious as the half drew to a close with their opponents growing stronger, but his side gave themselves some breathing space with their second of the night. 

It proved too easy for Boro as Fabio's scooped ball managed to catch the entire Birmingham defence off guard, but Assombalonga wasn't fooled as he was given all the time in the world to pick out his spot and slot home. 

The Riverside crowd thought it was three in extra-time as a corner from the right sparked a goalmouth scramble, Assombalonga managed to stab it home but was denied the hat-trick by the offside flag.  

Starting where they left off 

Monk will have been beating into his side at half-time to give more of the same in the second period, and it seemed to work as Boro came flying out of the traps at the restart with a decent opportunity. 

Downing did well to release Braithwaite in the right-hand side of the area, but the angle is always working against the midfielder as he skews his effort wide of the mark hitting the supporting post on its way behind. 

Despite a shaky start Cotterill's men weren't looking to roll that easily and were almost gifted a way back into the clash in the 55th minute, Grounds' low cross looked to be innocuous but managed to sneak through the hands of the reliable Randolph but Fabio was on hand to put it behind. 

Continuing to turn the screw 

The best chance  of the second-half fell to the home side and they were just a lick of paint away from making it three goals to the good, Fabio did well to take Downing's cross-field ball into his stride and wriggle his way into the area.

The Brazilian managed to get the shot away which had Kuszczak beaten but crashed the underside of the crossbar, it came back out into mixer where Assombalonga was waiting but his weak header was too easy for the former Manchester United keeper. 

Boro continued to pepper the Birmingham goalmouth with decent opportunities in search of their elusive third goal, another came in the 69th minute as Braithwaite laid it off to Downing but his effort was just wide of Kuszczak's right-hand post. 

The visitors wanted to show the 22,000-plus crowd inside the Riverside that they could cause some problems, some great build-up play from Harlee Dean and Jota released Jacques Maghoma on the left but he could only find the side-netting. 

Looking to make his impact from the bench 

As the game began to tick down into it's final ten minutes and Boro were still looking to kill the game for good with a third, it hadn't been quite the fairytale return to Teesside that Bamford had hoped for with one goal since his move was made permanent but looked to change that with some good chances. 

The first came in the 80th minute as Boro broke quick through Downing who threaded it through to Bamford, unfortunatley for the striker Kuszczak was just as alive to the situation as he came flying off his line to smother the chance. 

He was at it again moments later as he did well to take the pass into his stride and looked for the spectacular from 30 yards, but his effort was just inches wide of the far post.