Britt Assombalonga’s deflected shot proved decisive in a competitive match that Blues could have got something from.BCFC
Britt Assombalonga’s deflected shot proved decisive in a competitive match that Blues could have got something from.
Admittedly they did also ride their luck, with Boro hitting the woodwork on three occasions, but it remained a close contest throughout.
Blues afternoon was compounded in the 83rd minute when Craig Gardner was shown a straight red card for sliding tackle on Jonny Howson.
Blues have now only won once in 19 visits to the Riverside, a place that is a far from happy hunting ground.
Blues went behind in the 12th minute, moments after almost going ahead themselves.
A low cross in by Jacques Maghoma caused panic and wouldn’t quite fall Che Adams’ way, the loose ball broke to Cheikh Ndoye whose blast at goal was blocked by Adam Clayton.
Before Blues knew it, Boro switched the ball on a long diagonal to the left, just outside the area, where Assombalonga picked it up.
Faced by Maxime Colin, Assombalonga shimmied to give himself a little bit of room and went to curve the ball towards the far post with his right foot.
His attempt clipped off Colin’s shins on the way and that proved crucial as the ball spun beyond Connal Trueman’s full-stretch dive and low just inside the upright.
The goal increased the confidence coursing through the Boro veins – they had blown away Sheffield United in midweek with three goals in 25 minutes – and Blues had to dig in.
That they did and should have perhaps drawn level, in fact.
First Jota, in space on the right, didn’t quite connect powerfully enough with a left-foot drive, and it was blocked.
Then Adams rolled George Friend in the area, and manoeuvred to the right, albeit to a tighter angle; he let rip with a fierce strike and Darren Randolph made an excellent stop with his feet.
In the 27th minute Boro’s Stewart Downing almost caught Trueman out, from a free-kick on the right edge of the box.
With everyone expecting a delivery to Boro’s big men in their normal set-piece style, Downing whipped the ball over the wall and towards goal, and the ball rebounded off the base of the post.
Blues, though, again bounced back and carved some decent openings and put in some inviting crosses, but without finding that necessary killer touch to gain reward for endeavour and earnest approach play.
There was a huge scare, however, in the 44th minute when Jota lost the ball on halfway and it was shifted forward to Martin Braithwaite, who flicked it behind him to Assombalonga, who was clean through.
He opened his body up with just Trueman to beat inside the area and thankfully planted a sidefooter off the foot of the post.
Half-time: Boro 1 Blues 0
Three minutes into the second period Blues threatened Randolph’s goal when a diagonal cross by Kristian Pedersen was met by Lukas Jutkiewicz, his downward header had the ‘keeper scrambling to push it round the post, stretching for all his worth.
Yet minutes later a bizarre incident almost had Blues right up against it.
Ryan Shotton launched one of his searing long throws into the Blues area and with players jostling in front of Trueman, the ‘keeper misjudged the flight of the ball and got under it, a flailing hand was just enough to turn it up and onto the crossbar as he fell backwards and fortunately he was able to spring up and grab the rebound.
In the 58th minute there was another let off for Blues when Michael Morrison’s clearing flick header came into the path of Howson, who checked onto his right foot and curled the ball past Trueman only to find Morrison backing up and executing a diving header off the goal line.
The danger was not over, though, from a second ball in Lewis Wing nodded down for Assombalonga and with the goal at his mercy he couldn’t control the invite, the ball bouncing off his toe and just wide of the post as Morrison again came in to clean up.
Blues recovered their composure and continued to try and force the issue down the other end.
A raking 25-yarder from Gardner forced Randolph into a good save, low to the left.
With 20 minutes left Omar Bogle was thrown into the fray for his Blues debut and then Connor Mahoney came on, as did Viv Solomon-Otabor as Garry Monk tried to trigger a change of fortune, and add fresh impetus.
Blues pushed and pushed, strived hard to unhinge Boro, but the hosts went into protect mode and ensured they saw the game out and went to the top of the Championship.
Blues attempts were compromised when Gardner went sliding in late on Howson, in a full-blooded challenge, and the referee quickly whipped out the red card, with seven minutes left on the clock.
Boro: Randolph, Shotton, Friend, Fry, Flint, Wing (Tavernier 77), Clayton, Howson, Downing, Braithwaite (McNair 88), Assombalonga (Fletcher 81). Subs not used: Dimi, Leadbitter, Johnson, Chapman.
Goal: Assombalonga (12).
Blues: Trueman, Colin, Pedersen, Morrison, Dean, Jota (Solomon-Otabor 76), Ndoye, C Gardner, Maghoma (Mahoney 76), Jutkiewicz, Adams (Bogle 70). Subs not used: Camp, Roberts, Kieftenbeld, Harding.
Booking: Ndoye (25).
Sending-off: Gardner (83)
Referee: A Madley