Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis was a happy man as a second successive Championship victory took his men into sixth place last night.
Born-again Boro striker Patrick Bamford was the hero again, hitting his seventh goal in four games to inspire the Teessiders to a hard-earned 1-0 win at third-bottom Birmingham City.
It was a debut defeat for new Blues boss Garry Monk, who was replaced at Boro by Pulis earlier this season.
“First-half, I thought we were the better team, but we played some good stuff at times,” said Pulis.
“Darren (Randolph) has had to deal with a few long range shots and they’re dangerous off set-plays with Craig Gardner, who I worked with at West Brom.
“He’s dangerous close to the box and the second half was more scrappy but we dug it out.
“With Garry Monk’s first game, there’s always a bounce when managers come in and I’m really pleased with the players. That could have easily gone against them going against their old manager, but I’m delighted.”
Boro played with cool assurance and applied strong pressure, with Adama Traore proving troublesome with his trickery and pace.
Resolute defensive play kept Birmingham in the game but they finally succumbed in the 39th minute when a left-wing cross from Traore went through a packed defence and found Bamford on the far post, where he turned home the ball from close range.
Blues battled gamely in the second period, but they highlighted why they are the team with the worst goalscoring record in the entire Football League as Randolph maintained his clean sheet.
Monk said: “It was tight and we were unfortunate with the goal. We dominated the second half but couldn’t quite get the equaliser.
“I was very happy with the commitment, desire and passion displayed by the players.
“There are things to be worked on in terms what has been happening over the last two years. No one could dispute the desire of the players to do well in the game.”
Monk added: “I have a group of players who can improve and, from what I have seen, I have the belief in our last 10 games we can achieve what we have to achieve.
“The team showed they are going to fight to the end. It is all about building the confidence.
“We limited a very good and potent side as we controlled long spells. The talent is in the side but it is also about getting points, which are so vital at this stage.”
Birmingham: Stockdale, Jenkinson, Morrison, Dean, Colin, Gardner, Kieftenbeld, Jota, Adams (Boga 75), Maghoma, Jutkiewicz (Gallagher 60). Subs not used: Roberts, Bramall, N’Doye, Lowe, Kuszczak.Booked: Morrison.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton (Cranie 71), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Besic, Traore (Baker 83), Howson, Downing, Bamford (Assombalonga 77). Subs : Konstantopoulos, Fry, Johnson, Harrison. Goal: Bamford 39.
Att: 18,301. Ref: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).