Viduka still ambling with deadly intent

Middlesbrough 2 - Birmingham City 1
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Only Leeds, Wolves and Birmingham scored fewer than Middlesbrough's 44 goals in the Premiership last season, so their manager Steve McClaren went out and bought a new strikeforce.

In the first five games of this season, only Arsenal have scored more than Middlesbrough's 11 goals - three each from Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink - and the club heads for the first European tie in its 128-year history on Thursday in fine fettle.

Viduka scored both on Saturday. Only a year ago, he scored another winner at the Riverside for Leeds United. "Afterwards I said I hoped it was the start of things to come for Leeds," the striker said. "Hopefully, this time Middlesbrough can get the consistency, and if we can I can't see why we can't stay this high up the League."

It has been a long 12 months for Viduka since securing that 3-2 win. Mixed up with Leeds' relegation was his father's brain haemorrhage. Happily, Joe Viduka has recovered, although it will take much longer for Leeds to be in rude health once more. "The last year has been difficult, but you have to get over these things and it makes you stronger - that's my motto,"Viduka said.

His first goal on Saturday was created by Hasselbaink's perfect pass. "Jimmy is world-class," Viduka said. "I'd heard a lot of stories about him but had never met him before. Everybody says he's a sulky player, but that's not the case. Jimmy's one of the nicest guys I've ever met."

McClaren said: "They were brought here to score goals and they have, but the biggest thing for me is the way they are working together. Jimmy has not just scored three, but he's had three assists - two of them for Viduka."

Hasselbaink's threat caught the eye far more than Viduka's gentle amble. But the Australian won the game, scoring with almost contemptuous ease. His training curtailed by hamstring worries, Viduka was then withdrawn with the Uefa Cup visit of Banik Ostrava, champions of the Czech Republic, in mind.

"It's a big week for the football club," McClaren said, "and it was important to win against Birmingham, who are considered to be competing with us for that top-six spot."

It has also been a topsy-turvy 12 months for Birmingham's Steve Bruce. Having strengthened his side considerably over the summer, he has now gone 14 away League matches without a win. Emile Heskey's well-taken equaliser just before half-time made the scoreline closer than the match.

"We've had six or seven draws in those 14 games," Bruce said, "and, like today, with a bounce of the ball or a bit of luck, we might have got something more out of them."

Goals: Viduka (27) 1-0; Heskey (42) 1-1; Viduka (48) 2-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Ehiogu (Riggott, 60), Southgate, Queudrue; Nemeth (Job, 81), Parlour, Boateng, Zenden; Viduka (Doriva, 72), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Downing.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor; Melchiot, Cunningham, Upson, Gray; Gronkjaer, Johnson (Morrison, 75), Izzet, Yorke; Heskey, Forssell. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Tébily, Martin Taylor, Clemence.

Referee: G Poll (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Middlesbrough: Ehiogu, Southgate. Birmingham: Izzet, Heskey, Yorke.

Man of the match: Viduka.

Attendance: 30,252.