GARRY MONK suggested football has a funny way of throwing little subplots into the mix after being pitted against his former club Middlesbrough for his first match as Birmingham City boss.

And there was another ironic twist for him to consider after the final whistle at St Andrew’s, where Boro secured a narrow victory that reclaimed the highly coveted play-off spot which Monk found so difficult to nail down during his short time in charge.

The last time Boro hit the top six under him was in November, after a 2-0 win at home to Birmingham, and now his predecessor Pulis has seen the players climb up to sixth for the second game in a row – and the challenge is to stay there.

There just wasn’t to be any happy returns for Monk, on his 39th birthday, despite an encouraging performance that bodes well as he looks to lift the Blues out of the Championship’s relegation zone.

Pulis, though, can be even more satisfied. It might not have been the most exciting or convincing performance but Middlesbrough’s victory lifts them above Bristol City, who were beaten at Preston.

Patrick Bamford, who struggled to get going under Monk, who found the net again, as he continued his renaissance with the winner six minutes before half-time.

His seventh goal in his last four matches was followed by another clean sheet, which, again, was something that blighted the new Birmingham manager’s time in charge when a tendency for the defence to concede silly goals contributed to his demise.

Boro are certainly starting to get in the groove. This was their fourth win from the last six matches and they have picked up ten points from four unbeaten fixtures.

While the Birmingham players will not have been bothered about the matter of Monk taking on his former club, the same is unlikely to have been the case among the visitors.

Only six of the side sent out by Pulis started Monk’s last game in charge, which included roles on the bench for George Friend and Daniel Ayala at Sheffield Wednesday on that pre-Christmas afternoon. Adama Traore and Adam Clayton, for instance, were not even among the substitutes that day.

Clayton, who lost his way under Monk after starting the season, was back in the mix last night as the replacement in the middle alongside Mo Besic because of Grant Leadbitter’s two-game suspension for collecting a tenth caution.

Traore and Clayton had plenty of involvement too, although what was arguably more surprising was how well Birmingham started – and played - under Monk after such a depressing run building up to his appointment.

For a team which had lost its previous five matches, scoring just once and conceding 12, there was plenty of attacking intent for Boro to think about, even if they didn’t look too dangerous.

Ayala and Ben Gibson had to be alert to deal with plenty of deliveries into the area for former Boro striker Lukas Jutkiewicz to try to feed off.

In fact, with the exception of a tame effort from Stewart Downing that rolled into the arms of David Stockdale and a Bamford shot that was blocked by Harlee Dean, Birmingham asked more of the questions.

Boro goalkeeper Darren Randolph, who also had to deny Maikel Kieftenbeld later in the half, had already had to deal with a few crosses into his six-yard box when he had a couple of really dangerous efforts to worry about.

The first was from former Sunderland midfielder Craig Gardner. He struck one of his trademark efforts from distance midway through the opening period when Randolph had to scurry across and dive strongly to his right to turn it away.

Moments after there was a cleverly worked opening for Birmingham playmaker Jota, who turned and burst into the area before striking powerfully into the side netting just inches from creeping inside the near post.

Then Pulis decided to swap flanks for Traore and Downing and things started to happen.

Downing should have done better when he powered a first-time effort over the bar from 15 yards after Bamford’s cut back, and then the opener arrived in the 39th minute.

Traore, popping up on the right, sent over a cross and Ryan Shotton’s header was blocked and diverted towards the near post where Bamford was on hand to fire over the line from close range.

Despite the calls for offside, the goal stood and and the former Chelsea attacker’s fantastic recent form continued.

Middlesbrough should have used that as the base to build from, but instead they allowed Birmingham too much ball after the restart and the home side would have created more chances had it not been for the excellent Gibson-inspired defence.

There were a few half chances, a free-kick that flew over the bar from distance, and a couple of deliveries from the flanks that Randolph was equal to, but by and large the visiting backline did what it had to do.

Due to a lack of progress in the final third from Boro, the defensive side of the team’s display had to be effective to see the game through.

Not even the introduction of leading scorer Britt Assombalonga, still to score under Pulis, could change the flow of the game.

Birmingham pressed in the closing stages, but Gibson and Ayala kept getting in the way. This might not have been pretty, but Pulis’ Middlesbrough are gaining momentum.