If Bristol City are curious about what life would bring in the Premier League, here was an object lesson. Gary Johnson's side have now twice lost 2-1 at home to more elevated opposition this season, having gone out of the League Cup to Manchester City, and on each occasion the visitors have been far from impressive.
What those elite teams have done, however, is take advantage of the sort of lapse in concentration commonplace in the Championship, and from which David Wheater ensured Middlesbrough would be in the draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup tomorrow.
The 20-year-old started and finished the move which killed off a determined City with a neat finish from Lee Cattermole's cross, but Johnson was less than impressed with the way in which his side collectively switched off at a crucial moment.
"We'll have to learn from this game," he said. "We are clearly not a Premier League side just yet, so perhaps that was the kick up the backside we needed."
The Middlesbrough manager,Gareth Southgate, is also hoping it will have a positive effect on his side, much as did their replay victory on penalties over Bristol City in the FA Cup fourth round last season.
Southgate said: "Last season, we got on to an unbeaten run after we played Bristol. Winning breeds confidence, and although we have won four of our last seven, we've also lost three. We need to get that run going."
Southgate was also pleased to see one of his young squad players score the winner even more so, given his lack of forward options, that it came from a central defender. He said: "It was great to see a midfielder [Cattermole] breaking forward and also to see a centre-half charging into the box to score.
"I felt it was important to control the midfield after the way in which Bristol played last season, when they outnumbered us. I was pleased with the way we responded to going behind."
In his determination to dominate the midfield, Southgate strung five players across it and started with the 19-year-old Ben Hutchinson alone up front in his first start of the season. Boro enjoyed more possession as a result, much of which fell in the early stages to StewartDowning on the left wing.
But City's direct attacks were not overly reliant on them keeping the ball, and they took the lead with a goal of embarrassing simplicity. The free-kick lumped upfield by Jamie McAllister in the 18th minute found Tamas Vasko unmarked inside the six-yard box, and from his header his fellow centre-half Liam Fontaine scuffed in only his second senior goal.
Having taken the lead, City again conceded control of the midfield, and the pressure finally told in the 37th minute when a touch of panic at the back between Fontaine and Bradley Orr handed the ball to Downing on the left edge of the area, and his shot was helped in by the Bristol goalkeeper, Adriano Basso, at his near post.
Bristol could, and perhaps should, have retaken the lead in the second half when Marvin Elliott shot wide after a fumble from Mark Schwarzer. It was to prove a costly miss and, though they pushed forward in search of an equaliser after Wheater's brief cameo, they never looked like repeating last season's heroic comeback.Reuse content