MIDDLESBROUGH manager Tony Mowbray admitted his side’s failure to kill off games has undermined their play-off push.
Boro missed some good chances and were caught cold by a late Birmingham strike from Nikola Zigic as they lost at the Riverside on Saturday.
It was a third successive defeat and sixth in eight matches in the npower Championship and, although they remain ninth in the table, Boro are now five points adrift of the top six with just eight games left.
“We are making it difficult for ourselves,” said Mowbray. “We understand we need to win games to give ourselves a chance and that now we have one less game to do that.
“But it was a fine-margin game. It could have gone either way but unfortunately it is another one that fell the wrong side of the line for us.
“We asked questions of them and had our chances to score but we never took them. We have maybe missed a few chances to kill games off in recent weeks but that is where we are as a team.”
Birmingham were denied with the first real chance of the game on 15 minutes as a back header by defender Andre Bikey played Wes Thomas through but keeper Jason Steele blocked.
Boro had the ball in the net after 35 minutes when a low angled George Friend shot was blocked by City keeper Jack Butland but when Scott McDonald stabbed in the rebound the flag was up.
Boro had a golden chance after 57 minutes as Lukas Jutkiewicz glanced on a Justin Hoyte cross for McDonald but his shot was saved by Butland.
City threatened as a Nathan Redmond 20-yard effort was palmed away by Steele before the visitors claimed all three points with the only goal on 81 minutes.
Faris Haroun was robbed on the right and Keith Fahey raced down the flank before firing in a low ball to the near post where Zigic bundled it home untidily.
Zigic had been booked on 68 minutes for a foul on Grant Leadbitter but avoided a second yellow for what looked a deliberate handball soon after, although Mowbray declined to point to that as an excuse.
“I’m not going to moan about what the ref did,” he said. “There were plenty of things we should have done in the build up to prevent that goal.”
Birmingham boss Lee Clark was delighted with a win that clawed his side further away from the relegation zone, but warned against assuming the hard work was done.
“We’ve still got to be aware of what’s going on behind us,” he said.
“With the results teams are getting below us, there’s more good runs in the bottom half of the table than the top so it’s turned on its head.
“If we do things right in the last eight games we’ll see where that will take us, but that’s two defeats in 14 games now which is pleasing.
“We came here and did our jobs. We showed energy, pace and looked a real threat going forward. I’m delighted.”