Middlesbrough 2 Birmingham City 0: Kike excels in Boro’s impressive opening

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.
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Hopes are high on Teesside after Middlesbrough ended last term by winning six of their final eight games, and the opening day did little to dispel confidence.

Boro’s head coach Aitor Karanka enjoyed a rewarding start to his first full season at the helm.

He said: “It was very good; a very good result and performance. You never know in the first game of the season. We started in the same way as we finished last season, with confidence.”

A new-look Birmingham, bolstered by 14 summer recruits having dramatically avoided relegation on goal difference in May, entered the game brimming with confidence after winning all five of their pre-season fixtures.

But Lee Clark’s men were found wanting against better opposition, their woes summed up towards the end of the first half when Ayala was left unmarked to head his side into the lead.

It was an advantage Middlesbrough never looked like relinquishing, with Kike, a £2.8m recruit from Real Murcia, capping a fine debut by finishing coolly midway through the second period.

Karanka revealed Boro beat several other clubs to the striker’s signature, adding: “He had offers to go to other Spanish teams. It took a lot of hard work to convince him but we got him.”

The only negative for Middlesbrough was the early withdrawal of defender Ben Gibson, who suffered a hamstring injury inside 30 seconds. “I think he is going to be out for two to four weeks,” added Karanka. “But we have players to replace him.”

Middlesbrough: Mejias, Hines, Gibson (Omeruo 4), Ayala, Friend, Whitehead, Leadbitter, Adomah (Nsue 67), Tomlin (Luke Williams 87), Reach, Kike. Unused substitutes: Konstantopoulos, Husband, Smallwood, Fewster.

Birmingham City: Randolph, Eardley, Hall, Grounds, Robinson, Shinnie (Duffy 55), Edgar, Gleeson, Thomas (Donaldson 67), Novak, Gray. Unused substitutes: Gunning, Cotterill, Doyle, Brown, Caddis.

Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).