Middlesbrough verdict: Why Neil Warnock's side struggled to hurt Jonathan Woodgate's Bournemouth as play-off hopes take big hit
Another game gone, another opportunity missed.
Middlesbrough’s chances to mount a late charge for the play-offs are running out and, in truth, they can’t have many complaints.
A win at promotion rivals Bournemouth would have given the Teessiders belief they could finish in the top six, yet even when Duncan Watmore cancelled out Philip Billing’s opener, Boro’s aspirations were quickly extinguished.
The Teessiders were level for just four minutes when Jefferson Lerma restored the Cherries’ lead, before Dominic Solanke sealed the points for Jonathan Woodgate’s side.
After making five changes from his side’s defeat at Millwall last time out, Warnock’s team started slowly and fell behind inside 14 minutes.
The notable absentee from Boro’s team sheet was defender Dael Fry, who was missing through injury, and perhaps his absence showed as the Teessiders lost their shape at the back.
Bournemouth winger Arnaut Danjuma was a handful for Boro right-back Darnell Fisher in the early exchanges, and it was the Dutchman’s neat flick which released Billing for the opener – with the Cherries midfielder peeling away from Jonny Howson before firing a low effort past Marcus Bettinelli.
Boro managed to settle after falling behind but struggled to create chances until Marc Bola’s header hit the crossbar just before half time.
After showing more energy at the start of the second half, the equaliser came when Bolasie’s pass from the left was converted by Watmore after a neat turn and finish on 63 minutes.
Boro were level for just four minutes, though, as Billing’s drilled cross from the left was miscontrolled by Sam Morsy and Lerma's low shot was too hot for Bettinelli.
As the visitors pushed forward, more space was left at the back and Solanke converted a second attempt after Bettinelli had parried his original shot.
That put an end to the contest seven minutes from time.
Warnock said before this game he wanted his side to ‘have a go’ and recalls for Neeskens Kebano, Duncan Watmore and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who joined Yannick Bolasie in attack, showed intent.
The Teessiders operated in what at times looked like a 4-4-2 system with Kebano and Watmore up front, and Bolasie and Mendez-Laing on the flanks.
Yet the lack of a natural striker and focal point made it difficult for Boro to build attacks and create chances or convert crosses into the box.
In contrast, Bournemouth, who did only register one effort at goal in the first half, picked their moments to play out from the back and retained possession much more effectively.
The hosts, operating in a 4-2-3-1, posed more of a threat going forward as they targeted the left flank where Danjuma looked to cut inside.
With central midfielders Jefferson Lerma and Jack Wilshere comfortable in possession, Bournemouth’s centre-backs often had the option to retain possession.
Grant Hall produced another solid display in the heart of Boro’s defence and won the majority of his headers against Solanke.
The centre-back probably gets the nod for Boro’s best but it was a tough afternoon for the side.
The games don’t get any easier for Warnock’s side who will host second-place Watford on Monday.
Boro remain six points off the play-offs, ahead of Reading’s meeting with Barnsley, and have played a game more than Bournemouth in sixth.