GORDON STRACHAN admitted he was embarrassed by the abject surrender that left his Middlesbrough side unable to reach the play-offs.
The Teessiders produced one of their most lifeless displays of the season as they slipped to a deserved 2-0 defeat to West Brom, with goals from Simon Cox and Roman Bednar ensuring the Baggies retain an outside chance of pipping Newcastle United to the Championship title.
With Swansea, Leicester and Blackpool all having won in the afternoon, Boro's players kicked off on Saturday night knowing anything less than a victory would be terminal to their play-off hopes.
Yet they were listless from the off, and Strachan, who banned every member of his side from speaking to the media after the game, pulled no punches as he reflected on his side's 15th defeat of the campaign, I've been in management for 13 years, and that is one of the few performances where I've actually been embarrassed,
said the Boro boss, who admitted David Wheater's ankle ligament injury is likely to keep him out of the rest of the season.
As a manager, you just hope that doesn't happen too often. It's probably about the fourth or fifth time it's happened to me. I think that says it all.
I don't want to go into the details of what was missing I just want to say that we were embarrassed by that performance, and by we, I mean everyone associated with the club, not just the players.
With West Brom's promotion having been assured seven days earlier, a carnival atmosphere saw the first Mexican Wave of the day sweep around the Hawthorns in the opening eight minutes of the game.
The home fans were on their feet again in the 29th minute, but while Bednar's rising drive beat Brad Jones, it rebounded to safety after crashing against the underside of the crossbar.
That was a let off for the visitors, but there was to be no escape when the Baggies attacked again in first-half stoppage time.
Bednar chested Gabriel Tamas' long ball into Cox's path, and after turning past Stephen McManus on the edge of the area, the striker crashed a superb finish into the top right-hand corner.
West Brom's strike duo combined again ten minutes after the break, but this time the roles were reversed.
Cox turned provider, nodding down Robert Koren's rightwing cross, and Bednar prodded home his 11th goal of the season from close range.
Gary O'Neil was restored to the Boro ranks after a financial compromise with Portsmouth was agreed on Friday night, but the skipper was unable to prevent West Brom enjoying midfield dominance throughout, and Jones was forced to make excellent second-half saves to deny Bednar and Koren.
Boro's attacking was largely non-existent until Scott Mc- Donald wrestled free of his marker to head Barry Robson's free-kick against the crossbar in stoppage time.
We've always been hard to beat, and I don't really think there's anyone this year that's really turned us over and made us look the way we did here,
said Strachan. That's the first time that's happened.
Match facts Goals:
1-0: Cox (45, turned past McManus and drilled rising drive into top corner)
2-0: Bednar (55, prodded home from six yards)
O'Neil (58, foul), McManus (66, foul)
Referee: Grant Hegley (Bishop's Stortford) Just about managed to keep a lid on a simmering feud between O'Neil and Olsson 6
WEST BROM (4-4-2):
Carson 6 (Kiely 46, 6); Reid 6, Tamas 7, Olsson 6, Cech 6; Koren 8, Dorrans 6, Mulumbu 7, Brunt 6; Cox 7 (Morrison 75), BEDNAR 8 (Miller 82).
Subs (not used): Mattock, Meite, Slory, Barnes.
8 JONES: Made six good saves to prevent an embarrassing scoreline
5 Hoyte: Solid enough in defence, but wasn't able to get forward enough
4 McManus: Was turned inside out as Cox wriggled free to score opener
5 Grounds: Struggled against Bednar after slotting in to replace the injured Wheater
4 Naughton: Looked like what he is a right-back playing out of position
6 Robson: His passing and probing made him Boro's most influential midfielder
5 O'Neil: Failed to make an impact on his muchpublicised 100th game
4 R Williams: Couldn't exert a big influence as much of the game passed him by
5 Arca: Lack of pace was exposed by West Brom's high-tempo passing game
5 McDonald: Headed against bar in stoppage time, but a peripheral figure before that
4 Killen: Too many of his headed knock-downs failed to find their intended target Subs:
Lita (for Killen, 54): Added a bit of pace, but never really looked like scoring 4
Riggott (for Grounds, 70)
Franks (for R Williams, 80)
(not used): Coyne (gk), Taylor, O'Shea, Miller, Lita.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
ROMAN Bednar Scored one and set up the other as his power proved much too much for the Middlesbrough defence.