Mark Perrow reports from Ashton Gate
Sean O’Driscoll’s unbeaten start to life at Ashton Gate extended to six games as Middlesbrough’s faltering play-off challenge took another backward step.
Goals in each half from Albert Adomah
and Steven Davies cemented a fifth win out of six on home soil under the new regime, and City might well have added further goals to secure three points by an even more convincing margin.
The result also secured a third straight clean sheet for the revitalised Robins, who jumped off the foot of the npower Championship table.
Sean O’Driscoll was without Cole Skuse, who missed the game due to a family bereavement, while Paul Anderson dropped to the bench after suffering with a stomach bug.
In their absence, Neil Kilkenny slotted back into midfield for his first start in six weeks, and Davies was recalled to partner Jon Stead up front.
But Stead’s afternoon would only last 18 minutes, as a groin injury saw the striker replaced by Adomah, who would take up a central role as the nearest supporting act for Davies.
Meanwhile, the contest was following a similar pattern to the last two City outings – both goalless, both short on chances.
After Kilkenny and Marvin Emnes exchanged speculative shots from distance, some not so discreet climbing on Davies offered City’s top scorer a chance to let fly from a free kick.
When his set-piece was blocked by the Boro wall and bounced back to him, the former Derby County man set himself before unleashing a sweet strike on his less favoured right foot, albeit straight down the throat of keeper Jason Steele from 25 yards.
But a subdued first half was about to be lit up by a moment of Adomah magic to give City the lead on 33 minutes.
Receiving the ball from Kilkenny’s raking diagonal pass in familiar right-wing territory, the Ghanaian opted against taking on George Friend in trademark style, instead cutting inside and sending a curling shot on his left foot towards the far corner, which perfectly glanced the top of the far post on its way across goal and into the net.
Boro had offered little and were hardly shaken into action by the opener, but did contribute a rare attempt when Richard Smallwood’s free kick was only cleared as far as former Bristol Rovers winger Mustapha Carayol, whose subsequent drive rose harmlessly into the Atyeo Stand – much to the delight of the home supporters, who had not forgotten the identity of his previous employers.
There was still one more chance in stoppage time, as City threatened to capitalise on Boro’s recent set-piece frailties when Marvin Elliott powered a header over the bar from Stephen Pearson’s corner, but the hosts would have to settle for a one goal lead at the break.
It was clearly a first 45 to rile Tony Mowbray, as the Boro boss wasted no time in making his first substitution before the start of the second half, bringing on Andy Halliday in place of Friend.
But it would do nothing to stem the tide, as some quick thinking from Kilkenny at a set-piece on the halfway line found Stephen Pearson in space down the left flank, who cut inside before feeding a neat pass in behind the defence for Davies to latch on to and finish in typically clinical style, low across Steele for number two.
Mowbray’s second change soon followed, but his side were struggling to stem the tide, as Davies had the chance to put the game to bed from Kilkenny’s innocuous-looking long ball in behind the defence.
As Steele raced to the edge of his box to claim the high ball, Davies challenged with the keeper and won the ball. With the visitors expecting a free kick the striker looked set to find the empty net, only for his shot to be blocked by Rhys Williams, inciting loud appeals for handball against the Australian who had good fortune on his side.
Another injury concern looked to have cut short Marvin Elliott’s day when the midfielder landed awkwardly on his arm after an aerial challenge, but the midfielder was fit to come back on and came close to a goal when his placed shot narrowly escaped Steele’s left-hand post from Adomah’s lay-off.
Boro escaped further punishment when Davies was inadvertently put through by Smallwood’s ill-advised header back to his own keeper, who was left one on one but this time came out on top as the striker’s shot clipped the top of Steele’s body on its way over the top.
Next to threaten a third was Adomah, who raced on to substitute Sam Baldock’s pass and rounded Steele only to be halted in his tracks by a last-ditch Williams tackle, but victory was already assured.