Stewart Downing rued Middlesbrough’s “schoolboy” errors in Saturday’s dismal Sky Bet Championship defeat at Millwall.
Boro, buoyed by their 2-0 win over Ipswich the previous weekend, continued their stop-start campaign with a deserved setback against a combative, well-drilled Lions side at the Den.
Defeat leaves Boro in 10th place, albeit still five points from the play-off places.
Millwall took a 31st-minute lead when Jed Wallace latched onto a Ryan Tunnicliffe through-ball to slot home, past Darren Randolph, from inside the area.
Boro thought they had equalised, but Britt Assombalonga’s header was correctly ruled out for offside.
Things got worse for Boro before the break when Millwall captain Steve Morison found George Saville unmarked just inside the box.
The chance seemed to have gone when the ball got stuck under Saville’s feet, as Jonny Howson raced back to get stuck in, but Boro failed to clear and he was able to wriggle through and prod home from eight yards.
Downing gave Boro a lifeline when his 25-yard left-foot strike beat Jordan Archer, who got his hands to the ball but could only help it on its way into the net.
“The goals were very poor from our point of view,” Downing told mfc.co.uk.
“It was schoolboy stuff.
“We did good things in the game but it’s the same problem – we’re gifting goals away.
“If we do that, we’re not going to get anywhere. We need to defend better as a team and be more ruthless at the other end.”
The eighth league loss was another setback for under-fire boss Garry Monk.
The ex-Leeds boss was particularly frustrated at the way his side failed to cope with Millwall’s direct approach, having warned his players of what to expect before the game.
He said: “At the risk of repeating myself, it’s just naive, it’s extremely naive. We know coming here, we’ve prepared the players all week, the direct play it’s going to be. That battle, that physical element to it, in terms of competing for those second balls, very direct stuff.
“To then be so naive and lose a lot of those battles in that first half in important areas and again in leading to the goals, it’s naive, schoolboy stuff. I’ve said it too many times this season.
“It’s never through a lack of effort within the group.
“It’s just comes back to naivety. I feel like a broken record at the moment. Schoolboy errors, so avoidable and basic stuff.
“And you don’t expect that from the level of players we’ve got, but, unfortunately, it’s happening too many times this season.
“We have no other choice but to work and try to come through it.”
Millwall: Archer, Romeo, Hutchinson, Cooper, Meredith, Wallace, Tunnicliffe, Saville, O’Brien (Craig 86), Morison, Gregory (Williams 74). Subs not used: McLaughlin, Thompson, Martin, Elliott, Twardek. Booked: Gregory, Romeo, Wallace, Meredith. Goals: Wallace 31, Saville 37.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Christie (Traore 80), Ayala, Gibson, Da Silva, Howson (Gestede 59), Leadbitter, Downing, Bamford, Braithwaite (Johnson 80), Assombalonga. Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Friend, Shotton, Forshaw. Booked: Bamford, Leadbitter. Goal: Downing 67.
Att: 12,026. Ref: Oliver Langford (W Midlands).