Middlesbrough 2, Birmingham City 0: Southgate hails progress of Wheater and Taylor

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The Independent Football

The Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, believes his team are heading in the right direction.

He rated this victory over Birmingham – Boro's 1,500th league win and first at home this season – as the best performance in his 14 months in charge. Goals from David Wheater and the England winger Stewart Downing were enough to beat a poor Blues side.

Wheater headed home Andrew Taylor's cross from the left after 12 minutes and 25 minutes later Taylor picked out George Boateng at the far post. He headed back into the path of Downing, who finished from close range.

Boro dominated – Mido and Jérémie Aliadière missed chances and Luke Young was denied by a goal-line clearance from Stephen Kelly. Southgate felt his message was getting across to the players.

"We are starting to look like a decent side. We have got good balance and the players are starting to believe in what we are trying for," he said. "They are enjoying working for each other and there is a great spirit about them.

"We want to play a style of football the supporters are going to enjoy watching and they have responded. It is the best we have played but we have more to come. We have to make sure that level of performance is a benchmark. The players want the challenge. They want to push on."

Julio Arca's performance in midfield aside, Taylor's contribution underlined his growing importance and Wheater's goal capped another impressive performance by the 20-year-old centre-back.

"Taylor's character is very special. He has a fantastic mentality and the pair of them, to show the level of consistency they have at the age they are at is commendable," said Southgate. "You know with young players that sometimes they have got talent and that they can produce a performance, but they are doing it week after week at the moment.

"Tayls has done it over the course of a year, Wheats is fresh into it but he is playing without fear. He is enjoying the challenge of the different strikers he is playing against and he is always a big threat in opposition penalty areas – we know that from the youth team and the reserves. He is a bit of a magnet to the ball because he doesn't think about anything else."

Birmingham's manager, Steve Bruce, could not understand why a team who had performed so well in winning at Derby could be so poor seven days later.

"You can never take a plus after a performance like that," he said. "The one thing you want to do is go back to work on the training ground, but eight or nine of them are away for 10 days now," he said. "For four games we have given as good as we have got and we went there and we haven't kicked a ball. It is a harsh lesson about what the Premier League is about."

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