NOT even the EFL’s dubious goals committee could help Britt Assombalonga add to his collection and save Middlesbrough from defeat at St Andrew’s – even though for around three minutes defender Daniel Ayala thought he had.

On a day when Assombalonga was credited with the equalising goal that many felt had been turned in by Preston’s Darnell Fisher in midweek, Boro found another way against Birmingham City to come from behind to edge towards claiming a point. This time, it wasn’t enough.

Boro never got going until after the hour mark and, even then, it wasn’t with the sort of quality in the final third to ensure they would avoid defeat never mind claim a win for only the third time in 11 games this season.

Birmingham were on track to inflict the fifth league defeat of Woodgate’s short reign by half-time, and it could have been far greater than the one-goal advantage they had courtesy of Fran Villalba’s well worked opener in the 33rd minute.

There was slight improvement made after the restart from Middlesbrough, but the truth is they rarely did enough to pose a threat to a Birmingham side that had lost their previous three and not beaten Boro in ten matches.

The Teessiders were sluggish during that opening period and they could have conceded more in the second half too, but when Ayala forced an equaliser over the line with three minutes remaining it seemed it would be enough to earn a point for the second time in four days.

But just after Boro attacked at one end in search of a winner, Birmingham stepped it up again at the other and got the winner much of the game had warranted.

Odin Bailey was left unmarked at the back post to force in the winner to leave the visitors down in 20th and looking over their shoulders.

What must have frustrated the Middlesbrough bench was that awful start because, with the prospect of climbing up to the 14th place occupied by their hosts beforehand, it was Birmingham who were full of greater intent.

Despite naming an unchanged side following a Tuesday night performance Woodgate described as a “step in the right direction” there was no progress on that front in Birmingham, who should have gone ahead before they did.

Darren Randolph, a former City goalkeeper who chose to leave as a free agent for West Ham in May 2015, reminded the St Andrew’s crowd of his quality between the posts on a few occasions before Villalba found a way beyond him.

The danger signs had already been there for Woodgate. Birmingham had managed to find space far too often down the flanks in the opening quarter of an hour to pose a threat to the visiting penalty area.

The first time that happened was when Dan Crowley lifted a cheeky ball over the top of makeshift left-back Ryan Shotton for Maxime Colin to run on to.

The Blues’ forward-thinking defender delivered into the area for Villalba to hammer towards goal, only for Randolph to miraculously turn over for a corner.

It was the sort of save that got the crowd drawing breath. He was at it again, although not quite as brilliantly but still effectively, eight minutes later when he turned over a Marc Roberts header that deflected his way off Dael Fry from point blank range.

There was more of that to come once Marcus Tavernier’s free-kick, destined for inside the near post, had been thwarted by former Sunderland goalkeeper Lee Camp, who surprisingly retained his place after a couple of howlers.

And when Colin was able to find space again down Middlesbrough’s left side with 12 minutes remaining of the first half, Randolph was unable to spare his team-mates’ blushes this time.

The Ireland goalkeeper dived the correct way, but was unable to get enough power in his arm to stop a lowly driven first time effort from Villalba after he had been afforded the space to meet Colin’s low centre.

The only saving grace for Middlesbrough is that by the time the half-time whistle had blown they were only one down. Birmingham had more chances to have extended their lead and it was a surprise they hadn’t added more.

Teenage midfielder Jude Bellingham, who only got his GCSE results in August, saw an effort deflect off a red shirt in the area and drop inches wide of Randolph’s left post.

The goalkeeper was then thankful for his crossbar when Kristian Pedersen’s header hit the woodwork and had to be cleared to safety in a far from convincing manner.

Woodgate had not seen the sort of high intensity play he has demanded since taking over, neither did he witness a team showing a willingness to get on the ball and attack.

The fact Middlesbrough had only conceded one left them in with a chance after the restart provided they improved, and they did.

The head coach had to try something, and rather than make substitutions he asked Marcus Browne to move up front and join Britt Assombalonga. That meant Paddy McNair and Tavernier playing wide, but Birmingham were still the stronger as the hour approached.

Lewis Wing’s introduction, albeit sitting deep, and Ashley Fletcher being paired with Assombalonga for the final 34 minutes did breathe some life into the visitors.

Despite more forward passing and threat, Camp was still not tested so the chances of an equaliser looked slim. The nearest Boro came during that spell was an Assombalonga header, with his back stretched, that floated harmlessly over.

Birmingham looked like finishing the stronger. Gary Gardner and Ivan Sunjic both went close, with the former hitting the inside of Randolph’s post at a time when Middlesbrough were really under the cosh.

But then from nowhere, after Rudy Gestede was introduced, Boro pushed forward and levelled. It was the substitute’s presence that caused panic and Ayala was on hand to force over the line Assombalonga’s deep cross.

And just when it seemed they might even nick a winner, Birmingham drove forward once more to hit the winner. Crowley’s own cross to the back post was perfect for substitute Bailey to nod in at the back post. There was no way back from that.