Middlesbrough 2 Birmingham 0

Steve Bruce is not a man to mince his words. And, having witnessed his baffling Birmingham City side proving every bit as bad against Middlesbrough as they were good against Derby County a week ago, he did not hold back with his opinions.

"I'm not going to lie to you or b******t you," said Bruce after this defeat. "We were absolutely *****"

Well, it was a word that rhymed with blue and white and one that is often used by Aston Villa fans when they talk of their near-neighbours. And Bruce was right.

"We got our backsides kicked and we got beat handsomely," he added. "We made Middlesbrough look like world-beaters." And there, in essence, lies the key to this unexpectedly severe thumping.

Admittedly, Middlesbrough is not a place Blues fans associate with too many happy away days, not having won here in 27 years. But was this simply a disappointing one-off performance after the excellent football played by Bruce's side at Pride Park seven days before?

Or was last week's result put into perspective by the ten goals Derby County have now shipped in Premier League action either side of playing the Blues? Were Birmingham bad? Or were Boro just too good?

Whatever the long-term answers to the Blues' half of that riddle, there was certainly no doubting the quality of Gareth Southgate's side.

In midfield, the elegance of Fabio Rochemback and the hustle-and-bustle of Julio Arca ran the show. Up front, Mido and Jeremie Aliadiere were a massive threat and, at the back, Blues' shaky central defenders were outclassed by the efforts of Jonathan Woodgate and the newly-elevated England Under-21 stopper David Wheater, who marked his growing confidence by firing Boro's first goal.

Maybe it should be a comfort to Bruce, given how awkward his own centre halves looked on Saturday, that when Wheater made his one appearance on loan for Wolverhampton Wanderers ten months ago, he looked about as comfortable on the ball as a young foal learning to walk.

But then, maybe the fates had already decided the outcome of this one. With a record such as Blues have at the Riverside, even the Birmingham fans showed what they thought of their side's chances by staying away from the match.

Barely a thousand of them turned up to see Blues try to claim their first point on this ground, as they glaringly failed to take up their allocation of 3,000 tickets. And it was soon clear that this was definitely not going to be the day when they picked up their first win on Teesside since November 1980.

Blues barely got a sniff of success during as one-sided a defeat as they have suffered in a long while. Their only first-half opening came from a misplaced Arca back pass which went straight to Cameron Jerome, who galloped away to fire a left-foot shot saved low down by Mark Schwartzer.

But it was one-way traffic at the other end of the field, however. Wheater had already shot over the bar, while Rochemback's shot had been deflected wide and it had needed a great challenge by Radhi Jaidi to deny Mido before Boro struck on 11 minutes.

Arca's shot was blocked, the ball was fanned out to the left wing, former Boro Youth Cup-winning captain Andrew Taylor crossed and Wheater timed his run from behind a flat-footed Liam Ridgewell to bullet home a powerful header.

Taylor had to save three more times, once from Stewart Downing, twice from Aliadiere but the Blues keeper was powerless when another useful delivery from Andrew Taylor was headed back across goal by Villa old boy George Boateng and Downing, who had slipped into yards of space behind the static Blues defence, stuck away the chance with ease.

The half ended with Arca's left-foot volley flying over the target from Rochemback's half-cleared corner and Boro resumed their attacking efforts after the break via means of the same combination. This time, it was a chipped cross from Rochemback and again the marking was non-existent as Arca's free header flew just wide of goal.

But it was simply the prelude to another half of Boro dominance as the home side attacked mercilessly until Southgate spared them any further punishment by removing Blues' main tormentors, Aliadiere and Rochemback, for the last ten minutes.

By then, Boro had wasted a whole host of openings to inflict what really could so easily have been Blues' worst Premier League defeat. With the ball at times pinging back and forth across the visitors' box, the visitors defended with increasing degrees of desperation.

Aliadiere shot low at a well-placed Maik Taylor at his near post, then Rochemback's effort was deflected in after Aliadiere had tried to dribble his way through. Meanwhile, there was real North African menace in the tackle put in by the newly arrived Mehdi Nafti, a Tunisian, on Mido, an Egyptian.

Luke Young's shot then took a double deflection wide of goal after he had been set up by the electric Aliadiere, who had totally roasted Ridgewell.

When, after a seemingly unstoppable ten minutes, Aliadiere cut in from the left, Taylor turned the ball around the past. Then, from Arca's superb ball inside the full back, Downing set up substitute Dong Gook Lee but the Korean could only fire his effort into the side netting.

Blues did at least have double the number of chances of their own after the break. Olivier Kapo shot just wide and, judging by his reaction when a goal kick was given, he clearly throught Schwarzer had got a touch to his effort. Jerome then set up substitute Gary McSheffrey, only for his shot to be blocked by Young. Yet Bruce knew there was no use hiding after a performance like this one.

"I didn't have to read the riot act," said Bruce. "The players know it was a woeful display. The only possible exception was Cameron Jerome. He's the only one on my team who can come away with any credit but we can't really take any plusses from a performance like that.

"I've been encouraged with the way we've started. We were good at Chelsea on the first half and at Derby last week but we've now had a harsh lesson in what the Premiership's about."

Meanwhile, the Carling Cup draw threw up the prospect of two meetings inside a fortnight with Messrs Savage, Bowen, Dunn, Hughes and the rest of Bruce's private fan club at Blackburn Rovers.

"Thanks," said Bruce, smiling ruefully when given the news. "That just about sums up my ******* day!"

Scorers: Wheater (11), Downing (37).
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Young, Woodgate, Wheater, A Taylor; Boateng, Arca, Rochemback (Cattermole, 82), Downing; Aliadiere (Tuncay, 84), Mido (Dong Gook, 86). Subs: Jones (gk), Hines.
BIRMINGHAM CITY (4-4-2): M Taylor; Kelly, Jaidi, Ridgewell, Parnaby; Larsson (McSheffrey, 56), Muamba (Nafti, 56), Djourou, Kapo; Forssell (O'Connor, 56), Jerome. Subs: Kingson (gk), Sadler.
Referee: Rob Styles (Hampshire).
Bookings: Middlesbrough — Mido (foul); Birmingham — Muamba, Nafti, Kapo (fouls).
Attendance: 22,920.
Blues man of the match: Maik Taylor — spared his side a bigger beating.