Mark Perrow reports from Riverside StadiumCity upset the bookmakers with a gutsy performance on Teesside to register their first win of the new season against one of the Sky Bet Championship title favourites.
Last season’s play-off finalists were unable to cancel out Joe Bryan’s brilliant ninth minute goal as Ben Hamer produced a stunning display of goalkeeping to keep a hard-earned clean sheet.
Steve Cotterill’s team selection saw Mark Little make his first competitive appearance since April, having endured a difficult summer recovering from a dislocated shoulder.
Elsewhere, Bobby Reid was rewarded for his cameo role off the bench against Leeds United in midweek with a first start of the season in place of Callum Robinson, who joined fellow new recruit Ryan Fredericks among the substitutes.
Middlesbrough, unbeaten at home since February, were understandably confident and started quickly.
Former England international Stewart Downing threatened to score his first goal since returning to his boyhood club with a low shot dragged harmlessly wide from 25 yards.
But instead it was City who went in front with a well-worked opener superbly finished by Bryan
Reid’s low cross into the feet of Aaron Wilbraham was laid off neatly for the wing-back to dispatch with an inch-perfect first-time shot on his right foot that left Dimi Konstantopoulos helpless in the Middlesbrough goal.
The Boro response was not slow in coming, as central defender Daniel Ayala strode forward and let fly with a fierce drive deflected behind.
The hosts had the ball in the net from the resulting corner after Hamer lost it in the air, but a high foot on Marlon Pack ensured the celebrations were cut short.
Hamer soon had to stoop to his left to smother Yanic Wildschut’s tame effort, before Reid spurned a golden chance to make it 2-0.
The lively Jonathan Kodjia escaped down the right flank and pulled the ball square for Wilbraham, who should have scored himself in being denied by Konstantopoulos before Reid sent the rebound into orbit with a wild swipe from four yards when perhaps Bryan was better placed to score.
Boro would continue to press but City looked every bit as threatening as a counter-attacking force, utilising Kodjia’s pace to good effect.
There were further chances for the visitors inside the first half hour as the Frenchman burst through and shot with power only to force a fine save from Konstantopoulos, before Aden Flint headed Marlon Pack’s corner just wide.
The home side were desperate to draw level before the interval, with Downing biding his time and checking on to his right foot before pulling another low shot past the post.
Then Hamer had to be on his toes to deal with Emilio Nsue’s intended cross that needed an acrobatic tip over from the City keeper.
Boro boss Aitor Karanka wasted no time in introducing Diego Fabbrini at half-time, while former City favourite Albert Adomah
continued to watch on from the bench.
Slowly but surely the hosts would start to turn the screw. The increasingly busy Hamer was brave in preventing another Nsue cross from running across the six-yard box before making a hat-trick of miraculous stops in quick succession.
By now a more influential figure having switched wings, Downing delivered across goal for what looked a certain equaliser only for the on-loan Leicester City stopper to make a point-blank save he could not have known much about.
But that was only the start of Hamer’s heroics. An outstanding left-handed save kept Ayala’s downward header at bay before skipper Grant Leadbitter was denied by the same fingertips when his low shot was destined for the bottom corner.
A more routine save prevented David Nugent’s drive creeping inside the near post as the game entered its final 15 minutes.
City forays forward were becoming understandably rare but Bryan kept Konstantopoulos involved with a daisy-cutter from 20 yards.
At the other end, having survived a brief onslaught midway through the second half, Hamer was not called upon again as Ayala headed wide from Boro’s best chance of a nervy finale.