MIDDLESBROUGH’S hopes of reaching the play-offs faded a little more after they suffered a third straight league defeat to Birmingham City at the Riverside Stadium.

Nikola Zigic’s goal in the 81st minute separated the sides in a performance Mowbray will be keen to forget quickly.

Boro remain three points adrift of sixth place with eight games left to play this season and they need to find something quickly if they want to save their season.

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Mowbray made seven changes to the side that lost at Bristol City last weekend, with Justin Hoyte, Andre Bikey, Sammy Ameobi, Grant Leadbitter, Faris Haroun, Adam Reach and Lukas Jutkiewicz all coming into the side.

It was Hoyte’s first start in two months, while Jutkiewicz made his first start since mid February.

It was imperative Boro got something out of this game, but early indications suggested Mowbray’s side were still half asleep.

A couple of half chances fell to Jutkiewicz and McDonald, but the hosts gave the ball away far too easily.

Ravel Morrison fired a low shot wide after Boro had lost possession in their own half before Wesley Thomas blasted an effort wide of Jason Steele’s near post.

The Boro keeper was called into action again moments later when a ball came across the box towards Thomas, but again Steele did well to get to the ball first.

There were glimpses of Boro’s attacking capabilities. Adam Reach received the ball on the left and sent an early cross into the middle but McDonald couldn’t get there ahead of Jack Butland.

Boro did have the ball in the back of the net soon after when McDonald slotted in the rebound from George Friend’s shot, but he was denied when the linesman flagged for offside.

As the half wore on the hosts did come to life but when McDonald lashed over from a Jutkiewicz flick on you couldn’t help but feel this wasn’t going to be Boro’s day.

Mowbray needed to see a marked improvement from his side in the second half and he did get one.

They threatened through a succession of corners, but Birmingham stood firm and denied their hosts a breakthrough.

Butland did well to deny McDonald from close range with Shane Ferguson clearing off the line a Woodgate header.

Ishmael Miller replaced Jutkiewicz in the 65th minute and he almost had an immediate impact when he headed inches wide from Reach’s cross.

The Blues were still pushing forward as well and Redmond again went close with a low effort from just outside the area.

Boro responded when Reach had Butland scrambling to clear a cross heading inside his near post, but moments later the visitors took the lead out of nothing.

Ferguson’s cross from the left evaded Steele, leaving Nikola Zigic to bundle the ball over the line from close range with nine minutes of normal time remaining.

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Steele; Hoyte (McEachran 86), Woodgarte, Bikey, Friend; Ameobi (Carayol, 78), Leadbitter, Haroun, Reach; McDonald, Jutkiewicz (Miller, 65).

(not used): Leutwiler, Williams, Halliday, Main.

BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): Butland; Caddis, Davies, Robinson, Ferguson (Caldwell, 84); Redmond, Morrison, Spector (Fahey 5), Elliot; Zigic, Thomas (Mullins 88).

(not used): Doyle, Burke, Ambrose, Reilly.