IT has been far from a happy New Year for Middlesbrough in the Championship.
The 3-0 trouncing away to Blackpool was followed up with this flat and disappointing 2-0 defeat to a mid-table Burnley side.
Boro never turned up against the Clarets, with the midfield over-run and the forlorn strikers hardly getting a kick.
The absence of middle-of-the-park terriers Barry Robson and Nicky Bailey proved pivotal as Burnley quickly got a foothold in the game and had a 2-0 lead before the half- hour mark.
The Teessiders never looked like getting back into the game, with the introduction of new signing Lukas Jutkiewicz the only moment for the home fans to cheer.
“I don’t want to be too negative,” said Boro boss Tony Mowbray.
“Five weeks ago we were 10 points off the top, now we are five points and we have to understand that.
“We are missing key players from what is a small squad.
“Nicky Bailey has undoubtedly been a key figure this season and Barry Robson can be a catalyst on days like this.
“Barry will be back next week, Bailey a bit longer, but we have to keep going, look forward to the second half of the season and not be too disappointed.”
Connor Ripley, 19, son of Boro legend Stuart, made his first start in goal for Boro as he replaced the injured Jason Steele.
Top scorer Marvin Emnes made his first league start of 2012 start after missing four games and Tony McMahon dropped to the bench to accommodate Julio Arca as Boro went back to a 4-4-2 formation.
However, the tinkering did not work as it took Burnley only six minutes to take the lead – and it came from an obvious route.
A clever corner routine saw Ross Wallace’s low cross stepped over by David Edgar and Jay Rodriquez strike the ball from just inside the box – identical to a goal he scored against Boro last season.
The Clarets were not happy with the small lead as first Dean Marney hit a stinging volley before Edgar narrowly missed after spinning on the edge of the box.
Kieran Trippier soon put his side 2-0 up, hitting a shot from 35 yards that Ripley will feel he should have stopped.
It took 40 minutes for Boro to create their first chance of the game, with a Julio Arca corner headed over by Faris Haroun.
Scott McDonald, who had a torrid afternoon, then missed a gilt-edged chance, when, just a few yards out, he swung and missed the ball.
Burnley came out the stronger again in the second half, with a series of crosses and corners that had the Teessiders’ defence looking edgy.
Just before the hour mark, Jutkiewicz brought the first cheer from the home fans as he replaced Richie Smallwood and seven minutes later he was nearly on the scoresheet.
A pass back to Lee Grant saw the keeper struggle to control the spinning ball that was sliced to Jutkiewicz on the edge of the box.
With the goal gaping, the targetman saw his first-time effort go horribly high and wide.
Hoyte blazed the ball over the bar, Jutkiewicz headed wide and substitute Tony McMahon finally brought a save out of Grant with a half-volley.
Boro travel to Coventry to play Jutkiewicz’s former side this Saturday.
Mowbray will be hoping the big striker can add the goals desperately needed to get automatic promotion hopes back on track.
Middlesbrough: Ripley, Hoyte, Bennett, Bates, Williams, Arca (McMahon 68), Thomson, Smallwood (Jutkiewicz 57), Haroun, McDonald (Zemmama 75), Emnes. Subs: McManus, Martin.
Burnley: Grant, Trippier, Duff, Edgar, Mee, McCann, Wallace, Marney, Stanislas (Bartley 55), Rodriguez, Paterson (Austin 85). Subs: Jensen, Easton, Vokes.
Ref: Robert Madley Att: 17,001