Marlon King reigned supreme on St. Andrew’s Day as the red-hot striker’s two-goal blast fired Blues to a thrilling 3-2 win over third-placed Middlesbrough tonight.
Blues were below par in the first half and Boro deserved to take the lead through Grant Leadbitter. But a timely penalty converted by King in first-half injury-time acted as a morale boost for Lee Clark’s boys. Even though the visitors regained the lead via Scott McDonald, the shock of going behind turned out to be the catalyst for a tremendous comeback. First super sub Wade Elliott’s fired a 25-yard volley over Jason Steele and then the in-form King crashed in his 13th goal of a prolific campaign to clinch victory with nine minutes left.
Rob Hall was handed his full Blues debut as one of two changes made by boss Lee Clark from the team that drew at Blackpool. Nikola Zigic was also recalled to partner King in attack with Peter Lovenkrands and Elliott the ones to make way.
Blues started well with Nikola Zigic not far off the target with a stooping header followed by a weaving run from Paul Caddis that almost set up a shooting chance inside the area. But Blues’ home woes looked like continuing as Boro took a 14th minute lead. Returning captain Leadbitter led by example, careering into the box to meet Andy Halliday’s inviting cross with a close-range header that Jack Butland got a hand to but couldn’t keep out.
The visitors threatened again on 21 minutes when Lukas Jutkiewicz jumped above Butland to make contact with Justin Hoyte’s cross but his header floated well over the bar.
Moments later and Blues came within inches of levelling. Nikola Zigic picked up the ball midway inside the Boro half and as the big striker waited for the overlapping run of Caddis, space opened up in front of him. The Serbian fed the ball through to Jonathan Spector, who in turn cleverly allowed it to roll through his legs to reach Marlon King. The striker’s side-footed effort was heading for the corner but the fingertips of Jason Steele diverted the ball onto the post. The goalkeeper’s intervention wasn’t spotted by referee Roger East, much to the annoyance of the home side.
Tony Mowbray’s team were looking very dangerous from set-pieces and Jutkiewicz had another good opportunity as he leapt highest to meet Leadbitter’s dangerous inswinging free-kick but his header from 10 yards out drifted harmlessly off target. Emmanuel Ledesma then twice tried his luck from distance but Butland was equal to both efforts.
With the two minutes of injury-time having almost elapsed, Blues were handed the perfect half-time pick-me-up with the award of a penalty. Ravel Morrison fed the ball through to King who was held by Andre Bikey as he looked to turn past the Boro centre-half. Blues’ top scorer dusted himself down and converted the spot-kick high to Steele’s right.
Blues made an enforced change at the break with Elliott replacing Morrison, who was suffering from a dead leg. Early in the second half Blues were indebted to Paul Robinson for a brave block that denied Leadbitter what seemed a certain goal when the ball broke to him in the penalty area. The hosts were living on the edge as McDonald timed his run to perfection to race clear of the defence but this time it was Butland that came to Blues’ rescue with a fantastic fingertip save.
Butland was at full stretch as Ledesma’s dangerous volley bounced two yards wide of the home goal whilst at the other end Steele had to be alert to turn aside Hall’s near-post shot.
The visitors regained the lead just after the hour mark following a mix-up between Pablo Ibanez and Jack Butland which allowed McDonald to nip in between them. The Spaniard tried his best to dispossess the striker using his head whilst lying prostrate on the ground but the Boro top scorer finally got his shot away and it nestled into the far corner.
But, in a bizarre twist, the goal worked in Blues’ favour as it served to spark Clark’s charges into life. Spector set off on a forging run to the edge of the area but the American went for power over placement and his shot was beaten away by Steele.
Elliott then saw his shot blocked by Bailey but the substitute was not to be denied his third goal of the season on 66 minutes. The ball dropped to the midfielder outside the area and he chested it down before hitting a delicious shot on the volley that dipped over Steele and into the net.
By now the Blues team and fans were a united force and the manager’s decision to introduce Lovenkrands from the bench proved inspirational. The Dane latched onto a misplaced pass on the halfway line and advanced forwards before teeing up King. The striker unleashed a fierce shot that whizzed into the bottom corner.
It could have got even better for Blues in injury time when Lovenkrands broke free on the left of the area but the sub was denied by the feet of Steele. But the referee brought play to a close moments later to confirm a much-needed three points were staying in the West Midlands.
Blues: Jack Butland; Paul Caddis, Pablo Ibanez, Curtis Davies, Paul Robinson; Jonathan Spector, Ravel Morrison (Wade Elliott 46), Hayden Mullins, Rob Hall (Chris Burke 69); Nikola Zigic (Peter Lovenkrands 76), Marlon King.
Subs (unused): Colin Doyle, Steven Caldwell, Nathan Redmond, Papa Bouba Diop.
Goal: King (45+2, 81), Elliott (66)
Boro: Jason Steele; Andy Halliday, Andre Bikey, Seb Hines, Justin Hoyte; Emmanuel Ledesma (Richard Smallwood 67), Josh McEachran (Merouane Zemmama 83), Nicky Bailey, Grant Leadbitter; Lukas Jutkiewicz (Ishmael Miller 67), Scott McDonald.
Goal: Leadbitter (14), McDonald (62)
Subs (unused): Jayson Leutwiler, Kevin Thomson, Marvin Emnes, Stuart Parnaby.
Referee: Roger East
Attendance: 15,322 (522 away fans)