Middlesbrough edge closer to relegation after humbling at Bournemouth
Middlesbrough edged closer to relegation to the Sky Bet Championship after losing 4-0 at Bournemouth following their latest limp display.
In a match they desperately needed to win to boost their ever-diminishing chances of beating the drop, Boro were level for less than two minutes and collapsed thereafter.
Victory at the Vitality Stadium, followed by a further three points in the game in hand they are yet to play, may just have been enough to revive their season.
Instead, one day after the shock death of club favourite Ugo Ehiogu, another loss of a different kind became the latest miserable turn under caretaker manager Steve Agnew, who has overseen four defeats and two draws since his appointment.
The result, which was worsened by the dismissal of Gaston Ramirez, also takes Bournemouth to the relative safety of 12th, where they are seven points clear of the bottom three with four games to play.
The ease with which the hosts took the lead did much to demonstrate why it is Middlesbrough look certainties for relegation.
Their near-uncontested build-up on the left wing created space for Marc Pugh to cross to Joshua King, who from in front of goal and similarly under minimal pressure routinely finished low beyond Brad Guzan.
If Agnew had given Middlesbrough any belief before kick-off, it quickly vanished from then, after which Bournemouth's fluid football posed a constant threat.
In the 16th minute further poor defending led to their second. Uncertainty in possession on the edge of the area invited Harry Arter to dispossess Adam Clayton, and when the loose ball fell to Benik Afobe, he struck beneath the onrushing Guzan and into the back of the net.
Bournemouth almost immediately again threatened, when Pugh's classy backheel played in King, but the forward sent his shot over the crossbar.
The frustrated Ramirez had already been booked for diving after an earlier challenge from Adam Smith when in the 20th minute he lunged in on the lively Pugh and was given a second yellow card by referee Graham Scott, effectively taking a comeback beyond his team.
By the 29th minute, when Marten de Roon forced a fine diving save from Artur Boruc when shooting ambitiously from midfield off the bounce from Alvaro Negredo's knockdown, the greatest question surrounded the margin of Middlesbrough's defeat.
Bournemouth played with patience, and had again threatened through Ryan Fraser when in the 65th minute Pugh extended their lead. A fine pass from substitute Lewis Cook played in Pugh, who from inside the area curled across the face of goal and into the bottom right corner.
Their finest goal was also their last. After a 70th-minute free-kick was laid off to Charlie Daniels on the edge of the area, the left-back showed exceptional footwork to skip past Clayton before drilling low into the same corner as Pugh.
Middlesbrough's five remaining fixtures come against Sunderland, Manchester City, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool. After Bournemouth left them 19th, and nine points from safety, there looks no way back.