From the day's most inauspicious fixture came the most compelling of games: an eight- goal thriller in which a keeper was the star and managed to keep the scoring within reasonable bounds.
Birmingham slipped three points off the fourth-place pace and Middlesbrough crept to within sight of their highest-ever finish of ninth, but all anyone could talk about afterwards was the extraordinary nature of the game. "How we've been beaten by five staggers me because we were the better team," said Birmingham's manager, Steve Bruce. "Mark Schwarzer must have produced, in the first half alone, four saves of good, good quality. But you've witnessed a great game. At one stage I thought we were going to take off our jumpers, put them down in the middle of the pitch and say, "Come on, then'.''
In their previous 14 home games Middlesbrough had scored just 12 goals. Yet by half-time they had reached four in what was already their highest-scoring game of the season. But every time Boro went ahead, Birmingham valiantly tried to pull them back, Mikael Forssell threatening to equalise with every bamboozle of his brilliant boots. Time and again Schwarzer stood firm and, with judicious use of his woodwork, ensured his side were not outscored.
"Despite the conditions, there was some great attacking football, and you'll not see a better goalkeeping display this season'' said his manager, Steve McClaren.
Before the kick-off, wind damage closed the ticket office. Shortly after the kick-off, wind damage opened up Birmingham's defence. Matthew Upson's uncertainty beneath a high ball allowed Massimo Maccarone to knock it back to Juninho. He wisely moved it wide, where Gaizka Mendieta dispatched the ball across Maik Taylor.
Middlesbrough's midfield was a class above Birmingham's shadow-chasers. In the 22nd minute Martin Grainger, recalled from a loan at Coventry for his first Premiership match in 14 months, was left labouring in Mendieta's wake and Maccarone turned in the Spaniard's powerful cross.
Forssell had already proved a worry, and within a minute halved the deficit from the edge of the area. Stan Lazar-idis immediately weighed in with a header, which Schwarzer miraculously kicked on to the bar to preserve the lead. Gareth Southgate then extended it after being granted the freedom of the Birmingham box to sweep home the third.
Still the extraordinary half swirled on, Schwarzer producing two more splendid saves. A third, in the 45th minute, denied Forssell, but Clinton Morrison gobbled up the rebound. Maccarone, on an apparently fruitless foray into opposition territory, then deliberately and delightfully lofted the ball into the net for Boro's fourth.
On the hour Forssell's terrific off-balance header rapped the inside of a post. It bounced rapidly into Schwarzer's midriff and, as he tumbled backwards, the ball dribbled over the line.
As Middlesbrough's play-makers faded, Birmingham became the better side. Yet Schwarzer stood strong to all Forssell, Morrison and Lazaridis could throw at him.
McClaren calmly threw on two more strikers in search of a fifth. It came, in the 90th minute, when Upson stumbled in his foolhardy attempt to head a floor-level ball back to his keeper, and in crept substitute Szilard Nemeth.
Mendieta 5, Maccarone 21, 45, Southgate 30, Nemeth 90
Birmingham City 3
Forssell 23, 59, Morrison 45
Half-time: 4-2 Attendance: 30,244Reuse content