King pair checks Middlesbrough and lifts the gloom for Birmingham City
Birmingham City 3 Middlesbrough 2
These are distracting times for Birmingham City, whose acting chairman, Peter Pannu, has become embroiled in a nasty spat with the former Queen's Park Rangers chairman, Gianni Paladini, over a prospective takeoever, while the club president Carson Yeung prepares to go on trial in Hong Kong next week on charges of money laundering. A bit of good news on the field, therefore, must be especially welcome.
It came in the shape of a win– their first in five matches – over promotion candidates Middlesbrough, achieved by twice coming from behind, with a fine strike by substitute Wade Elliott and two goals, including the winner, from the striker Marlon King, whose 13th goal of the season nine minutes from time blocked Middlesbrough's return to the top two in the Championship.
But the evening had began with manager Lee Clark seeing his side's porous defence breached all too easily as Middlesbrough took a 15th-minute lead. The combination of Josh McEachran and full-back Andrew Halliday quickly found room to work productively along the left flank and it was a Halliday cross that Birmingham failed miserably to deal with, allowing Grant Leadbitter to steal through the middle unchallenged to head the ball in, goalkeeper Jack Butland getting a solid hand to it but unable to keep it out.
The Blues were almost found out again when they could not stop Justin Hoyte making an overlap on the right and were a little lucky that the Boro striker Lukas Jutkiewicz could not keep his header on target. But the home side were then unlucky themselves, on two counts, as a King shot clipped an upright, and the officials failed to notice that it was keeper Jason Steele's fingertips that had prevented an equaliser.
Compensation arrived, however, in first-half stoppage time when a clumsy challenge by André Bikey on King conceded a penalty that the home striker converted himself.
Clark replaced the attack-minded Ravel Morrison with Elliott for the second half, but his side conceded again when Scott McDonald restored Boro's lead. Birmingham's defending veered from slack to chaotic as McDonald picked up the ball inside a penalty area crowded with blue shirts and somehow found a way to squeeze it past Butland despite Pablo Ibanez's desperate attempts to dispossess him.
Yet, within four minutes, Birmingham were level again through a terrific effort by Elliott, who controlled a half-cleared ball on his chest just outside the box and volleyed left-footed over a cluster of defenders, the ball dipping under the bar to give Steele no chance.
It spurred Birmingham into a powerful finish in which they claimed the winner after 81 minutes when McEachran's sloppy pass was seized upon by Peter Lovenkrands, who had replaced Zigic. Lovenkrands released King, who still had a lot to do from a wide angle on the right but beat Steele with a fine finish, driven into the opposite corner of the net.
Birmingham City (4-4-2): Butland; Caddis, Davies, Ibanez, Robinson; Spector, Mullins, Morrison (Elliott, ht), Hall (Burke, 69); King, Zigic (Lovenkrands, 75). Substitutes not used: Doyle (gk), Caldwell, Diop, Redmond.
Middlesbrough (4-1-3-2): Steele; Hoyte, Hines, Bikey, Halliday; Bailey; Ledesma (Smallwood, 67); Leadbitter, McEachran (Zemmama, 83); Jutkiewicz (Miller, 67), McDonald. Substitutes not used: Leutwiler (gk), Thomson, Emnes, Parnaby.
Referee: R East (Wiltshire).
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