AITOR Karanka was mortified – but not shocked – by Middlesbrough’s first-half performance against Fulham on Saturday.
Boro’s 4-3 defeat in the capital means that they will almost certainly contest the Championship play-offs.
After the Norwich game (a 1-0 away win), I was completely convinced (Boro would go up) but today I have doubts.
Bournemouth, with a far superior goal difference, can seal promotion to the Premier League tonight if they beat Bolton Wanderers at home.
Former Sunderland defender Michael Turner’s opening goal ended a poor first half for the visitors, who improved after the interval but still fell to defeat.
“After the Norwich game (a 1-0 away win), I was completely convinced (Boro would go up), but (now) I have doubts,” he said. “We know how to play against Norwich and Wolves, but, after Saturday, I have to think and I have to learn from this game – because they thought everything was done.
“The first half, I don’t know what happened. For me, it was embarrassing.”
Boro had Dimi Konstantopoulos to thank for a save that denied Hugo Rodallega after Adam Clayton had been dispossessed by Danny Guthrie just outside the area. Rodallega could not get enough power on it and it was tipped wide.
Fulham took the lead in first-half stoppage time when Shaun Hutchinson headed on Bryan Ruiz’s corner to defensive partner Turner, who stooped to nod into the net from close range.
Boro began the second half with intent, but Fulham almost doubled their lead when Bettinelli came out to clear and found Ross McCormack on the right flank. The Scot’s cross was met by the head of Rodallega at the back post but somehow Konstantopoulos was able to pull off a superb save.
The reprieve was short-lived however as Daniel Ayala barged McCormack over in the next attack and the Scot despatched the penalty himself.
A response was required and sub Adam Reach, part of a triple substitution on the hour, provided it within four minutes of coming on, firing in a shot that Bettinelli could not keep out.
Boro were immediately back in trouble, however, and George Friend was shown a red card for upending Rodallega to concede another penalty which was converted once more by McCormack.
There was nothing left for Boro to do put press forward in the hope of a comeback and Tomlin saw an effort blocked again before Ayala headed home a cross from the right from Albert Adomah.
Patrick Bamford almost fashioned an equaliser but saw his back-post effort go across goal and wide before Ayala’s curling effort clipped the crossbar.
Fulham almost caught Boro again from a counter-attack, but this time McCormack blazed over.
Still Boro came forward and Bettinelli had to dive to deny Reach, whose block of a clearance almost found the top corner. There was still time for Kike to make it 3-3 after being set up by Tomlin – but Boro decided to carry on attacking and were made to pay by McCormack.
Konstantopoulos was ushered upfield for a corner that was cleared, allowing McCormack to find the net at the other end.
Fulham: Bettinelli, Hoogland, Hutchinson, Turner, Richards, Tunnicliffe, Guthrie (Fofana 76), Kavanagh, Ruiz (Woodrow 81), Rodallega (Smith 88), McCormack. Subs not used: Kiraly, Roberts, Voser, Burn. Booked: Kavanagh, Guthrie. Goals: Turner 45, McCormack 55 pen, 67 pen, 90.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Fredericks (Reach 61), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton (Forshaw 61), Leadbitter, Adomah, Vossen (Kike 61), Tomlin, Bamford. Subs not used: Tiendalli, Ripley, Whitehead, Nsue. Sent Off: Friend (66). Booked: Adomah, Gibson. Goals: Reach 63, Ayala 73, Kike 88.
Att: 22,731. Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).