ENVIRONMENT was the operative word at the Riverside as both Steve McClaren and Mark Viduka tried to put a finger on why the Australian centre-forward has adjusted to life at Middlesbrough so quickly.

And, fortunately for Boro, Viduka's current working habitat is helping him to emerge from possibly the most difficult year of his life in emphatic fashion.

Seen, largely unfairly, by many as the scapegoat for Leeds United's unceremonious fall from the Premiership last season, as well as having a much-publicised bust-up with ex-boss Peter Reid, it really wasn't the best period of his career.

Viduka missed a large chunk of Leeds' relegation campaign as there was also the matter of making the long-haul trip back to his homeland Down Under to visit his sick father, Joe - the major reason why he never became a Middlesbrough player in January.

The striker had been allowed time off to see Dad, who has now recovered from a brain haemorrhage, and by the time he had returned to step up negotiations with McClaren the transfer window was being closed.

But, as it has transpired, the move to Teesside was postponed rather than abandoned and now Middlesbrough are reaping the benefits of finally landing their man.

Viduka's brace against Birmingham, a side with similar top six ambitions this season, means he has scored three in three starts having missed the opening two fixtures through suspension.

And he couldn't be happier, completing a massive transformation from the way he felt just nine months ago.

"The people are so friendly here. There is such a good attitude at training. The boys are really good and everyone treats you well. It is a good environment in which to prosper," said a smiling Viduka, belying his moody reputation.

"The last year has been difficult but you have to get over things like that and it makes you stronger. That's my motto to life.

"It's difficult being so far away from your family when something happens but I am professional and I have to do my job."

Viduka's first of the afternoon showed his class.

Having been put through by the energetic Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the former Celtic man side-footed a shot into Maik Taylor's bottom right hand corner with precision.

And he showed his predatory instincts just after half-time when he reacted quickly inside the penalty area to head Szilard Nemeth's flick, from Bolo Zenden's centre, beyond Taylor.

It is delighting manager Steve McClaren to see Viduka, a close friend of Boro teammate Ugo Ehiogu, adjust to life at his new club so quickly after the £4.5m summer move.

"Certain players spend their careers searching and looking for a place they feel settled," said McClaren. "They look for somewhere they can enjoy their football and culture. That is why we brought him here.

"We give our players the best facilities, the best coaching and the best environment in which to enjoy their football.

"Mark has really enjoyed it and he's been a breath of fresh air for us in the dressing room, on the training ground and on the pitch.

"I would like to think he feels at home here. He's enjoying himself and producing the goods.

"We did our homework on him before bringing him here. I never got a bad word about him from any coach or manager who has worked with him or any players who have played with him.

"There was nothing but high praise. Since he has came here he has been fine. His attitude and workrate have been first class."

The irony is that Viduka, who was substituted on Saturday as a precautionary measure after struggling last week with hamstring trouble, is unlikely to have moved to Middlesbrough had McClaren landed Emile Heskey.

But Heskey opted against a move to the North-East in favour of a switch to St Andrews, having initially declared he was going to fight for his place at Liverpool.

And, after Boro had gone a goal to the good, it looked as if the man axed by England last week would return to haunt Sven- Goran Eriksson's assistant.

Three minutes before half-time Heskey was put through by Mikael Forssell and the £6.25m forward took a touch, possibly with his hand, before coolly slotting past goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer - Birmingham's first shot on target.

But Viduka, who scored 56 in 120 league appearances for Leeds, vindicated McClaren's decision to sign him soon after the interval by giving the home side the lead for the second time and on this occasion they were able to preserve it.

Gareth Southgate had to be alert to clear a Mario Melchiot header off the line but Birmingham struggled to break down Middlesbrough - proving why they have not won on their travels since December.

Another three points for Boro. The only thing missing was a goal from star man Hasselbaink.

His fourth of the season very nearly arrived when one of the Dutchman's thunderous free-kicks flew just over the Blues bar.

But this was Viduka's day and with this front-line things are looking good on Teesside,

Result: Middlesbrough 2 Birmingham 1.

Read more about Middlesbrough here.