BUNGLING Boro somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a televised trauma at Birmingham.
Middlesbrough will wonder how they lost a game that should have been wrapped up by the break.
The Teessiders totally dominated the first half and deservedly led through a Grant Leadbitter header, but were clawed back by a stoppage-time Marlon King penalty after a clumsy challenge by Andre Bikey.
They regained composure and the lead after the break and went ahead again when Scott McDonald took advantage of some comedy defending.
But then they lost their rhythm and their shape and handed the initiative and the points to a poor City side.
First they failed to clear a scramble on the edge of their own box and Wade Elliott lobbed home through the hands of normally rock solid keeper Jason Steele.
Then in the closing stages a stray pass by Josh McEachran handed King the chance to seal it.
Lowly Birmingham’s joy came on a night in which frustrated home fans had earlier unfurled a banner which read ‘Clark out, Carson out’, referring to Hong Kong-based owner Carson Yeung and the club’s ongoing takeover talk.
Middlesbrough went into the clash knowing victory would take them joint top of the Championship and they will have felt hard done by as they slipped to a third defeat in four games.
Boro certainly went into the game as the more impressive side this season, but history was not on their side, having won just one of their previous 15 visits to St Andrew’s.
Blues were first to threaten courtesy of towering Serbian striker Nikola Zigic but his header from a free-kick taken by loanee Rob Hall, making his full debut, went narrowly wide.
The visitors’ attractive passing style was certainly easy on the eye and it was they who broke the deadlock after 14 minutes.
The ball was recycled to Andy Halliday out on the left and, with unorthodox Blues right midfielder Jonathan Spector out of position, Leadbitter, back from suspension, nodded home from six yards.
Lukas Jutkiewicz should have made it 2-0 after 21 minutes but his header from Justin Hoyte’s cross flew off target.
Lee Clark’s Birmingham came within inches of a leveller soon after when Steele’s fingertips nudged King’s low effort on to the outside of a post following a flowing counter.
Boro were playing the ball around well, with Leadbitter and Nicky Bailey pulling the strings, but Birmingham were certainly struggling to find any kind of rhythm.
Jack Butland twice saved from Emmanuel Ledesma before, out of nowhere and with half-time approaching, the hosts drew level.
King turned Andre Bikey, who tripped the striker in the penalty area, and King himself stepped up to convert.
England prodigy Butland twice came to Birmingham’s rescue at the start of the second half, saving close range from McEachran’s cross and then clawing away McDonald’s attempted lob.
But McDonald was to beat Butland just after the hour mark, capitalising on defensive hesitancy from Ibanez before firing home in a goalmouth scramble.
Boro keeper Steele saved well from Spector but was soon at fault for Birmingham’s equaliser as he failed to keep out Elliott’s 25-yard lob.
And it was left for King to have the final say, finishing superbly after Boro had given the ball away to sub Peter Lovenkrands in the middle of the park.
BIRMINGHAM: Butland, Caddis, Ibanez, Davies, Robinson, Morrison (Elliott 46), Mullins, Spector, Hall (Burke 69), King, Zigic (Lovenkrands 75). Subs Not Used: Doyle, Caldwell, Redmond, Diop.
Booked: Robinson. Goals: King 45 pen, Elliott 66, King 81.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele, Hoyte, Hines, Bikey, Halliday, Ledesma (Smallwood 67), McEachran (Zemmama 83), Bailey, Leadbitter, Jutkiewicz (Miller 67), McDonald. Subs Not Used: Leutwiler, Thomson, Emnes, Parnaby.
Booked: Halliday. Goals: Leadbitter 14, McDonald 62.
Att: 15,322. Ref: Roger East (Wiltshire).