MIDDLESBROUGH’S play-off hopes were badly dented after defeat to rivals Cardiff.
However, manager Tony Mowbray insisted his side are still in with a great chance of finishing in the top six in the Championship.
Cardiff started brightly and took the lead when Ben Turner headed home before Joe Mason neatly slotted home a second to give the Welsh a commanding advantage at the break.
Boro responded with a brighter second half and hit the woodwork three times, but could not find the breakthrough.
As a result, Cardiff leapfrogged Boro into the play-off spots, leaving their hosts – who have now taken just four points from seven games – trailing.
Mowbray (right) said: “Look, we are all frustrated, disappointed and annoyed because we have lost a game and the goals we let in were very poor.
“But we are only one point off the play-offs with five games to go and with everything still to play for.
“That is five games to define our season. Is it going to be a season of progression and improvement? We’ll see.
“We have an opportunity over the next five games – or eight games if we are successful – to determine that.
“We have shown we can go away to teams and win games and we have our next two on the road, then we have bottom of the table Doncaster at home.
“So we still have a big chance to haul ourselves back into it. It is far from over.”
Cardiff boss Malky Mackay was disappointed that Boro keeper Jason Steele was not sent off early on after he clattered Kenny Miller when coming out to deal with a poor back pass.
The incident came on three minutes as Nicky Bailey played a weak back pass and Steele was forced to race to the edge of his box and put in a sliding tackle that left Miller in pain.
Miller had to go off and was replaced by Joe Mason – who ironically tore Boro apart in a lively first half as the Bluebirds took the lead five minutes later.
Former Sunderland midfielder Liam Lawrence swung over a corner and defender Turner rose above the home defence to plant a firm header into the bottom corner.
Boro striker Lukas Jutkiewicz spurned a golden chance to equalise when he headed Joe Bennett’s cross wide in the 17th minute, but within 60 seconds Cardiff had doubled their lead.
Lawrence was again the provider, playing the ball across the six-yard box from the right and Mason was left unmarked to sidefoot the ball into the bottom corner for his 10th goal of the season.
Boro responded immediately, with midfielder Barry Robson’s angled 25-yard shot brilliantly turned away at full stretch by Marshall.
Boro defender Seb Hines headed Hammill’s corner straight at Marshall and Jutkiewicz dragged a 20-yard shot wide, but Cardiff were only denied a third goal just before the break when Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele kept out Mason’s shot from inside the area with his feet.
The home side raised the tempo after the restart and were denied by the woodwork when Hammill’s angled drive hit the post in the 48th minute.
Marshall then held a shot from Boro midfielder Nicky Bailey and striker Scott McDonald rifled a shot over the crossbar.
However, Boro were restricted to long-range efforts.
Robson’s free-kick was easily held by Marshall, McDonald skewed another effort from the edge of the area off target and Hammill fired straight at the Bluebirds’ goalkeeper from 20 yards.
Jutkiewicz headed McDonald’s cross just wide in the 86th minute and substitute Bart Ogbeche was wayward with his shot from outside the area.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte, McManus, Hines, Bennett, Robson, Thomson (Emnes 62), Bailey (Ogbeche 84), Hammill (Martin 69), McDonald, Jutkiewicz. Subs Not Used: McMahon, Smallwood. Booked: Bennett.
Cardiff: Marshall, Blake, Hudson, Turner, Taylor, Cowie, Gunnarsson, Lawrence, McPhail (Gestede 54), Whittingham, Miller (Mason 6), Gestede (McNaughton 86). Subs Not Used: Heaton, Earnshaw. Booked: McPhail, Whittingham, Taylor. Goals: Turner 11, Mason 19.
Att: 17, 564 Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).