|Middlesbrough 1 v 3 Bristol City|
Tuesday, 23rd February 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Big Match Recap: Sorry Middlesbrough's play-off hopes hang by a thread after Bristol City collapse
Tuesday, 23rd Feb 2021 21:05 by Phil Spencer
Middlesbrough's perfect week was dealt a crushing blow after being beaten 3-0 by Bristol City in a poor showing at the Riverside Stadium.
Two goals from Famara Diedhiou and one from Nahki Wells gave the visitors a hefty lead at the break, with Neil Warnock side unable to mount any sort of fightback in the second period.
As a result the club's hopes of securing a play-off spot seem to be just out of reach with the Teessiders having plenty of work to do if they're to find the consistency needed to crack the top six.
Following the weekend's victory over Reading Neil Warnock opted for an unchanged side against Bristol City.
That meant that Ashley Fletcher kept his place in attack after scoring two goals in two games after returning from injury.
Darnell Fisher was also passed fit which meant that the Teessiders were arguably able to field their strongest side at the Riverside Stadium.
Middlesbrough enjoyed a positive start to the game and actually looked like the better side in the first five minutes as Neeskens Kebano teed up Marc Bola who opted to cross instead of shooting from a dangerous position.
After that brief spell of dominance it was all Bristol City.
Paddy McNair and Marcus Bettinelli did well to keep the Robins out early in the half before a headed goal from Famara Diedhiou gave the visitors the lead.
More concerning than the goal was the fact that Ashley Fletcher was taken off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury moments later, indicating that he could be set for another spell on the sidelines.
While McNair was able to carve out an opportunity for himself that was cleared off the line a dangerous counter attack found Diedhiou who slotted coolly under Bettinelli to make it 2-0.
Middlesbrough's midfield was giving the ball away for fun and were punished against before the break as Nahki Wells broke free and with Bettinelli way off his line the former Burnley striker was able to slide home.
Half-Time: Middlesbrough 0-3 Bristol City
Middlesbrough were clearly keen to mount a comeback in the second half but that was easier said than done.
Neil Warnock rang the changes with the likes of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Britt Assombalonga, George Saville and Marvin Johnson coming into the fold but chances were still very much at a premium.
Watmore fired one effort over the bar, before a Johnson corner was tipped onto the crossbar in a rare moment of threat.
The Teessiders did get some luck when the ball bounced to Dael Fry who bundled home at the back post late on to tee up what could have been a grandstand finish.
But in truth it rarely looked like a night where Middlesbrough would take any share of the spoils as Nigel Pearson's return to Teesside couldn't have gone much better.
Phil Spencer's verdict
Quite simply, Middlesbrough's performance against Bristol City was one of the worst of the season so far.
Despite a brief moment of encouragement in the opening minutes it was a game that completely passed the Teessiders by as Bristol City looked strong, compact and dominant.
The Robins didn't have many chances but the ones that they did create ultimately led to goals - something that was always going to prove costly for the hosts.
In comparison to the performance against Reading Middlesbrough were unrecognisable - something that is staggering considering it was the same 11 players who took to the field.
Marcus Bettinelli has had his critics so far this term and didn't do himself any favours with a torrid first 45 minutes.
Middlesbrough's defence looked fragile at best, with Anfernee Dijksteel and Paddy McNair in particular really struggling with the threat of Famara Diedhiou and Nahki Wells.
Marc Bola did okay, but Darnell Fisher really struggled before he was brought off.
The midfield duo of Jonny Howson and Sam Morsy are usually so reliable but they were arguably Middlesbrough's worst performers as they were slow to the ball and incredibly sloppy in possession.
In addition to that Middlesbrough's attacking set-up rarely caused a problem despite throwing every offensive option that they had at the problem during the match.
While the result was hugely concerning, what was worse was the injury to Ashley Fletcher who seemed to hobble off with a hamstring injury.
Given his form over the last two games Neil Warnock will be praying that the issue is not serious, as put simply, Chuba Akpom and Britt Assombalonga just don't look up to the challenge.
With a match against Cardiff City coming up this weekend the Teessiders will need a reaction and fast.
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