BRITT ASSOMBALONGA put Middlesbrough’s promotion bid back on track with his third brace of the season.
The £15million striker — who boasts the most headed goals in the Championship this season — took Garry Monk’s side into the top six for the first time and helped bury the memory of Sunday’s misery at Leeds.
Assombalonga scored the opening goal with his fifth header in the first ten minutes before his right-footed second just before half-time killed off any hope of a Birmingham comeback.
It took his tally to 11 since he left Nottingham Forest in the summer.
While Boro will be looking to establish a play-off place when they host Derby on Saturday, problems mount for Birmingham boss Steve Cotterill.
His side have won just twice in seven games since he took over from Harry Redknapp.
And less than 400 fans made the trip from the Midlands, behind only Brentford and Burton Albion as the worst travelling away support on Teesside this season.
Cotterill’s side never looked likely to pull off a shock win, once Boro took the lead, having already missed two good chances through Martin Braithwaite and Marvin Johnson.
Braithwaite was also involved in the opener, falling in the penalty area under David Davis’ challenge, which referee Darren England deemed legal.
The loose ball fell to Stewart Downing whose powerful shot was parried into the air by Tomasz Kuszczak and onto the head of Assombalonga who simply nodded the ball past the Polish keeper. City lacked penetration and belief and one of their few chances came courtesy of an error but Daniel Ayala made a timely block to deny Cheikh N’Doye.
Just after that, the ball broke to Che Adams in the area but he shot too close to Darren Randolph, enabling the Ireland No 1 to make a strong one-handed save.
Boro scored their second four minutes before half-time.
Fabio created the opening with an imaginative flick, which fell perfectly into the path of Assombalonga, who sent Kuszczak the wrong way and shot into the bottom left-hand corner.
Cotterill’s side showed much more urgency and ambition in the second half, but besides spilling a cross from Jonathan Grounds, Randolph had a comfortable night.
Downing and Patrick Bamford both went close to a third and as the few unhappy souls in the away end noted, it was somehow only a two-goal deficit.