Viduka's verve drives the McClaren bandwagon

Middlesbrough 2 - Birmingham City 1
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The Independent Online

Mark Viduka's sublime finishes - one an arrogant stroke into the net and the other a delightful glancing header into the top corner - ensured Middlesbrough have now scored two or more in each of their five opening games. In truth, the Aussie did very little else before his early departure. He simply won the game with his deftness of touch and certainty of purpose.

Mark Viduka's sublime finishes - one an arrogant stroke into the net and the other a delightful glancing header into the top corner - ensured Middlesbrough have now scored two or more in each of their five opening games. In truth, the Aussie did very little else before his early departure. He simply won the game with his deftness of touch and certainty of purpose.

Steve Bruce returned to his native North-east, but not in the role many Newcastle fans might have wished. With £5m compensation too much for the Geordies to countenance, Bruce named an attacking Birmingham side to take on Middlesbrough, whose manager, Steve McClaren, Newcastle had also cast covetous eyes upon.

Dwight Yorke made his debut for Birmingham, on the left of midfield, while Mikael Forssell and Emile Heskey started up front. So the game promised goalmouth action: last season's two fixtures between the sides brought 12 goals and Middlesbrough have opened this season with their best goal-scoring start for 64 years.

Yet Gaizka Mendieta was missing, meaning neither side had a playmaker to grasp the game. The opening, then, was scruffy, with only the industry of Ray Parlour and the unflappability of Julian Gray catching the eye.

A scruffy controversy awoke the game just as 20 minutes were up. Maik Taylor scuffed his clearance to George Boateng, who controlled it near the half-way line, possibly employing his hand. Boateng then returned the ball with interest. The goalkeeper fell over and the ball bounced off his chest, under his body, on to the post and out, bizarrely, for a goal-kick.

The indignation inspired Middlesbrough, and they surged ahead. Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink delayed his pass perfectly, and Viduka, with composure that verged on arrogance, stroked the ball home as if he had never missed in his life. Once ahead Middlesbrough should have pushed home their advantage, but instead Birmingham came back just before the break.

Gareth Southgate had been booked for a very poor foul on Heskey, and now Southgate allowed Heskey to get ahead of him on a long kick. Forssell, under pressure from Ugo Ehiogu, managed to return it to Heskey and the Big Blue, engulfed by four red shirts, drove splendidly home.

Three minutes after the break Middlesbrough regained their lead, Boudewijn Zenden returning a corner into the penalty area, Southgate guiding it on and Viduka finishing it off with a delightful header redirecting the ball into the top corner.

Ehiogu injured himself as he moved sharply to shut down an opening for Heskey and Chris Riggott replaced him.Middlesbrough endured some hairy moments, none scarier than when Mario Melchiott's header appeared to strike Southgate' s hand and when Muzzy Izzet tumbled under Franck Queudrue's clumsy challenge. Indeed, McClaren withdrew his two-goal Australian with nearly 20 minutes remaining so that substitute Doriva could add some resolution to the Middlesbrough rearguard.

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