Joe Nicholson's verdict: Middlesbrough look caught in two minds right now after dismal Birmingham City defeat

If this was a boxing match, it would have been stopped well before the full-time whistle.

Saturday, 5th October 2019, 16:45 pm
Updated Saturday, 5th October 2019, 16:45 pm
Middlesbrough's Jonny Howson chases Birmingham's Jacques Maghoma at St Andrew's.

Middlesbrough had barely laid a glove on Birmingham City and things looked like they were about to get ugly – fortunately, Boro goalkeeper Darren Randolph prevented things from getting really messy.

Remarkably, this result wasn’t decided by a unanimous decision, as Daniel Ayala’s equaliser four minutes from time cancelled out Fran Villalba’s first-half opener.

But, if Boro had taken a point from St Andrew’s Stadium, it would have simply papered over the gaping cracks of this performance. The Teessiders were terrible, particularly in the first half, as head coach Jonathan Woodgate was left to comment on another dismal display.

The Boro boss was hurting after this result and can only hope his players are feeling the same way.

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Some of them looked shell-shocked at the end of the match, when Dael Fry and Jonny Howson noticeably bent over in despair.

Just a few minutes earlier, it looked like they were celebrating an unlikely point with the 789 away fans. None could argue with the final result, though, after Blues’ substitute Odin Bailey headed home an 89th-minute winner.

The visitors spent most of the first half camped inside their own half, as Pep Clotet’s Birmingham side, who had lost their last three games, dominated the midfield battle.

Woodgate spoke earlier in the week about picking and choosing when to press teams high up the pitch, but, despite the boss’ touchline instructions to push up the field, Birmingham maintained possession with ease.

Right now, it seems like Boro are in two minds about how they want to play. Woodgate has previously talked about his attacking beliefs and possession-based approach. But, after taking just 10 points from 11 league games, there is a clear need to tighten things up at the back again.

Yet, even defensively, where Boro looked secure for most of last season under Tony Pulis, the side looks vulnerable.

The visitors had plenty of men inside their penalty area when Daniel Crowley was allowed to cross for Bailey to head home unmarked at the back post.

It was the knockout blow which had been coming.