Middlesbrough 0 – Birmingham City 1
Saturday 16 January 2021
A thoroughly professional performance saw Blues return from the Riverside with all three points, reversing the humiliating result at St Andrews last month.
All those individual mistakes that have marred recent performances were missing as the team ethic saw Blues through to the end after taking the lead in the first half with a very well crafted goal finished off by Scott Hogan.
Starting in the classic Karanka 4-2-3-1 formation, any half time spats with Hogan were forgotten as he lined-up up top again. San Jose was again at centre back, this time alongside to recalled captain, Dean. Bela also earned a recall after his strong showing in second half in the Cup last week against Citeh.
With Bela showing up well, Blues started strongly, better than Boro – but that was also the case in the reverse fixture which we’d ended up losing 4-1. And, like in that game, it was Blues who took the lead.
With the game having evened up slightly, on 25 a poor clearance by the Boro keeper was picked up by Hogan in midfield. He moved the ball quickly to Toral and continued into the box. Toral crisply got the ball forward to Sanchez in the box, who held on to it until deftly backheeling a pass into the path of an overlapping Colin who kept his head to cut the ball back to the onrushing Hogan completing his run to complete the job – a really good Blues goal.
What was different to the last game against Boro was how Blues reacted to the goal – so often their Achilles heel this season both when they and the opposition have scored. No panic this time, Blues just kept playing the way they had before the goal.
The cross for the goal wasn’t the only good contribution from Colin, as he reminded us, once again, that on his day he’s the best full-back in the division. On the other side, Friend was showing the calm leadership, organisation and commitment which deservedly won him man of the match.
A bit of a scare just before half-time aside, when it almost went over the line and Toral almost handled it on the line from a Boro set-piece, Blues were comfortable for the most part in the first half.
Three half time subs by Warnock signalled Boro intent to ramp it up. One of those subs was Assombalonga and you feared the worst as he’s a signed up member of the ‘always scores against us’ club. But he’ll have to revoke his membership as he fluffed a really good chance just after coming on and finding himself free in the box with only Etheridge between him and glory. After that, he pretty much disappeared from the game.
Karanka changed tactics on the hour when Roberts came on for Toral and we switched to three centre-halves. It felt a bit early to go for holding on to what you’ve got, but, in the end, his game management proved effective.
For a while, it was edge of the seat stuff as one of the other Boro’ half-time subs, Howson, started releasing runners into the space behind the Blues centre backs. But, for Boro, it all started to fizzle out, as Blues scrappers, Dutch Mike, Sunjic, Dean and Roberts, took over, organised by Friend and aided and abetted by the calm positional play and distribution of San Jose.
Indeed it was Blues who came on stronger in the last quarter of an hour, looking the most likely to get the game’s second goal. Jukey had come on to hold the ball up, and he had a really good shout for a penalty ignored as Bola wrestled with him as they both went for a far-post cross.
One good save by Etheridge from the lively substitute Watmore apart, Blues saw it out relatively easily for another really good away performance and win.
Of course, the problem of replicating that away form at St Andrew’s remains, but you know you’ve done a good job against Boro when Warnock spends most of post-match bitching to and about the officials.
- Thoroughly competent team performance
- Only second team to win at the Riverside this season
- Individual errors eradicated
- San Jose shows his class again
- A goal for Hogan
- Few and far between – away wins, any win, always feels good, particularly when it’s an early kick off leaving more of the weekend to bask in the reflected glory while other teams and supporters toil away
- Continuing problems with officials on penalties
- Continuing problems with officials penalising any foul on Jukey – feel shotgun has to be involved for him to get a decision
Etheridge – 7
Aside from a couple of moments when he should have take better charge, a good game with a crucial second half save from Watmore the highlight.
Colin – 8
Probably my favourite current Blues player. Back to his best here, solid in defence, dangerous in attack with an assist for the winning goal.
Friend – 9
Excellent in both his play and his attitude. Real leader, showing Boro what they’re missing.
Dean – 8
Really turned into his kind of game in the second half. Headed anything and wasn’t that concerned about what lay between him and the ball.
San Jose – 8
Best game in a Blues’ shirt? His passing, much improved on recent weeks, gave us a much more controlled out of defence that the big hoof that has been the norm of late. Always a worry that a speedster will exploit his lack of pace, but his positioning and good cover from full-back can lessen this concern.
Sunjic – 7
Good. Ratted around in midfield and didn’t give Boro much chance to dally on the ball
Keiftenbeld – 8
Much talk of character in football, but Dutch Mike’s resurrection from on his way out to the driving force of the side is the epitome of character in a footballer. Does not give up. And some of the passing was pretty nifty too.
Sanchez – 7
Not his best game overall, but deserves recognition for his part in the winning goal, that back-heel made it.
Bela – 8
Took it to Boro from the off and put us on the front foot early on. Good to see him coming back into at the end, as he’s often faded from view in games this season giving rise to questions about his stamina
Toral – 6
Involved in the goal but otherwise an underwhelming performance. We’ve seen what he’s capable of away at Cardiff and this was nowhere near that. While Crowley’s imminent departure solidifies his place a bit, Halilovic’s return from injury means he have to up his game to retain his place.
Hogan – 7
A goal from your centre forward is the main thing. And it was a good goal for Hogan, starting and finishing the sweeping move. We’ve said it a couple of times before, but maybe the goal will give him the confidence to go on a run.