Aitor Karanka named a strong side as Middlesbrough overturned a half time deficit to beat Aston Villa away from home.
New signings Alvaro Negredo, Victor Valdes, Marten De Roon and Viktor Fischer all started in a line-up which Karanka didn’t tamper with until the 70th minute.
That suggests that the Boro manager is already plotting his side to start the Premier League opener at home to Stoke in a fortnight’s time, yet in a disappointing first half they lacked verve and creativity while falling behind to Nathan Baker’s 14th minute header.
The second 45 minutes were much more encouraging for the 869 Boro fans who made the trip from Teesside for this pre-season friendly, as second half goals from Negredo, Fisher and substitute Jordan Rhodes gave the visitors a 3-1 victory.
Villa keeper Pierluigi Gollini hadn’t faced a single shot before the interval, as Roberto Di Matteo’s side, who were relegated from the top flight last season, looked well organised and reduced Boro to a series of sideways and backwards passes.
In Baker and new signing Tommy Elphick Villa may able to forge a decent defensive partnership to take on the Championship this campaign, however in the second half their familiar frailties at the back were evident once again and Boro took full advantage.
Boro appear light at the back
Yet the opening goal of the game will still be a concern for Karanka, who will know that his side need to pick up points early on in the season when they have some favourable looking fixtures.
At the back Daniel Ayala remains an injury concern and will face a fitness test before the Stoke game. Meanwhile new signing Bernardo Espinosa is still nursing a knee injury.
Ben Gibson and 18-year-old Dael Fry were the centre back pairing chosen to start this game, however they couldn’t prevent the visitors from falling behind when Leandro Bacuna’s cross from the left was nodded home by Baker at the far post.
Strong start from Villa
Villa calved out another chance minutes later when a neat move from left to right found the overlapping Alan Hutton but his low cross was cut out by Valdes.
Performances from forward players like Jordan Ayew and Jack Grealish could determine just how well Villa do in the second tier this campaign and both looked lively in flashes here.
On 38 minutes a flick on from striker Rudy Gustede sent Ayew through on goal where it took a combination of Gibson and Valdes to thwart him.
De Roon, a £12 million signing from Atlanta, looked a decent acquisition in Boro’s midfield and was keen to receive the ball inside his own half. Even so most of the visitor’s passing came at a pedestrian’s pace.
Karanka's men begin to click
After the break, though, things began to click. The visitors drew level when De Roon squared the ball to Fisher on the hour mark and the Danish international’s shot was saved at full stretch by Gollini.
From there the ball fell nicely at the feet of Negredo, who had looked isolated for most of the first half, and the Spaniard tucked away the equaliser.
The game suddenly began to open up, which played into Boro’s hands as they pace on the counter attack came to the fore.
With fifteen minutes to go Villa overcommitted going forward and were caught out when Negredo held the ball up and released Fischer, who calmly slotted the ball low into the far corner of the net.
A flurry of changes from Karanka followed and within seconds Rhodes headed in Boro’s third with his first touch of the game - heading home fellow substitute David Nugent’s cross.
Boro now travel to Italy to face Udinese on Wednesday before their final pre-season friendly at home to Real Sociedad next weekend.
Villa will now prepare for next Saturday’s Championship opener away to Sheffield Wednesday.