MIDDLESBROUGH just couldn’t cope.
They couldn’t cope with Bournemouth’s pace, harassment and rhythm.
Eddie Howe’s side started in blistering form, shell-shocking Boro and immediately inhibiting the Teessiders’ own fluidity, confidence and swagger.
The final scoreline to the new Championship leaders was merited.
Inconsistency – four defeats in eight – are threatening to derail Boro’s automatic promotion push.
Okay, they are only a point behind the Cherries after Saturday’s defeat and would be second if Watford’s goal difference wasn’t marginally better.
And, yes, the previous two games had seen Aitor Karanka’s side emphatically beat Ipswich 4-1 and see off Derby 1-0.
So there is no questioning the abundance of talent in the Boro camp.
But such a crushing and compressive defeat on the south coast has left a lingering doubt that maybe Boro will not take residence in the Championship’s top two come May 2.
It was scary how taken aback they were by Bournemouth’s start.
Karanka, the detailed analytic, will have informed his players of the Cherries’ tendency to start apace.
But they folded instantly. They were psychologically rattled from the first minute, Yann Kermorgant forcing Dimi Konstantopoulos into a save from a free-kick.
Tomas Kalas endured a nightmare afternoon against England U21 ace Callum Wilson.
Wilson was faster, stronger, trickier. He exposed Kalas’ weaknesses. He was a predator, constantly distressing his prey.
Emilio Nsue didn’t provide near-enough assistance, leaving large gaps down the left channel for Marc Pugh and Wilson to work in.
Kalas was flabbergasted and he was breached after just 12 minutes. A fine long ball from Harry Arter saw Wilson turn Kalas on the centre-circle, out-pace the Czech defender and then nutmeg the Chelsea loanee as he cut his way into the box.
Kalas was beaten so he dragged Wilson to the ground. Penalty awarded, Kermorgant the successful converter.
And Boro never recovered. Patrick Bamford was isolated up front, Lee Tomlin wasn’t afforded the space to be creative. Boro didn’t even register a shot on-target.
Arter and his midfield partner Andrew Surman stifled Boro. The red and black jerseys pinned Boro back.
Bournemouth profited on Boro’s inability to withstand their onslaught.
Wilson shot wide from 20 yards after Adam Clayton, a shadow of his usual domineering self and thus casting doubts whether he is the better option over Adam Forshaw, was disposed of the ball by Surman.
Matt Ritchie teed Kermorgant up for a Konstantopoulos-denied volley, before Wilson’s terrorisation continued with him heading the ball into Kermorgant’s feet for a cool but unsuccessful strike at goal.
Boro tried to create down Albert Adomah’s right-wing and they felt aggrieved not to be awarded an attacking free-kick when Simon Francis appeared to handle the Ghanaian’s cross for Bamford.
Ritchie missed a chance for the hosts and Wilson arced a shot over the crossbar on the cusp of half-time.
Bournemouth’s failure to double their lead in the first-half was not to be a problem.
Tommy Elphick almost headed the Dorset side in front just 90 seconds into the second period before Arter struck.
The Ireland international collected the ball 25 yards out from goal after tricky work from Pugh and curled a left-footed shot in off the post – a spectacular finish that even with just 48 minutes on the clock made sure of a Bournemouth win.
Kalas did his best to score an own-goal, frantically clearing his own backwards header off the line.
Kike did score for Boro, heading in from Adomah’s centre, but the linesman correctly ruled it offside.
Ritchie skied over from five yards and then in the 74th minute it was 3-0.
Arter ran unchallenged into the box and fell to the ground under the legs of Grant Leadbitter, but TV replays subsequently showed that the midfielder had fell to the ground without contact.
Brett Pitman scored the penalty. Leadbitter was furious with the decision but the game was long lost regardless.
Bournemouth’s jubilant crowd goaded Boro with chants of “easy”.
But, to be fair, their team had made it easy.