Kike nets in Boro victory
Big-money recruit Kike was on the scoresheet as Middlesbrough kicked off their Sky Bet Championship campaign by easing to a 2-0 victory over Birmingham.
Optimism was high on Teesside with manager Aitor Karanka taking charge of his first full campaign having overseen a fine end to last term.
And the home side did not disappoint as goals from Daniel Ayala and B#2.8million striker Kike secured the points.
A new-look Birmingham, bolstered by 14 summer recruits having dramatically avoided relegation on goal difference in May, entered the game brimming with confidence after winning all five of their pre-season fixtures.
But Lee Clark's men were found wanting versus better opposition, their woes best summed up towards the end of the first half when Ayala was left unmarked in the area to head his side into the lead.
It was an advantage Middlesbrough never looked like relinquishing, with Kike capping a fine debut when finishing coolly midway through the second period.
The game began in inauspicious fashion for the hosts as Ben Gibson suffered an injury inside 30 seconds and was forced off.
Kenneth Omeruo, the returning Chelsea loanee deemed too unfit to start following his participation in the World Cup for Nigeria, deputised.
Undeterred, Boro pressed forward with confidence and Lee Tomlin sent a fizzing volley just over the crossbar.
Birmingham were suddenly camped inside their own area, Karanka's men again going close as Tomlin's through-ball fed immediate fan favourite Kike - whose first-time effort just missed the target.
The Blues continued to defend resolutely, although Tomlin again nearly unlocked the door when striking narrowly wide.
Middlesbrough finally got a reward for their efforts in the 33rd minute, however, as Darren Randolph failed to keep out Ayala's powerful header from Grant Leadbitter's corner.
Not content with one, Boro continued to press forward and almost doubled their advantage when Albert Adomah hit straight at the onrushing Randolph just after half-time.
The goalkeeper had to be on high alert again moments later, parrying George Friend's header wide as Birmingham almost paid the price for further dreadful set-piece defending.
Suddenly awakened, the visitors began to put together some attacks of their own.
Yet they looked vulnerable to the counter, too, as the increasingly-influential Kike played through Adomah - who failed to beat Randolph from close range for the second time.
Kike would have no such problems when his chance came, slotting a controlled volley into the corner after Tomlin's initial effort had been blocked.
The Spaniard later missed a golden opportunity to add another following a brilliantly worked set-piece with Tomlin, although few in attendance were holding that against him when the full-time whistle sounded.