Mitchell Curry helped himself to a brace as we struggled to deal with Boro’s fast-paced counter-attacks and, although Marcus Edwards pulled a goal back during a period of ascendancy for us, the game was put to bed when Arnel Jakupovic fired past Alfie Whiteman for 3-1 just after the hour mark.
A miserable night at Stevenage’s Lamex Stadium was completed when Japhet Tanganga was sent off in stoppage time, leaving Under-18s Coach Kieran to reflect on where it all went wrong.
“It’s obviously very disappointing,” he said. “Especially in the first half I thought Middlesbrough were sharper, quicker and looked a little bit hungrier all over the pitch. They stopped us being able to play through them, they broke very quickly and we weren’t able to come up with the answers to that.
“To be fair, I thought the boys rallied towards the end of the first half and for periods in the second but really we defended poorly whenever Middlesbrough broke away and they were good value for their three goals on the counter-attack.”
The match represented our youngsters’ first outing since the IMG Cup Final in Florida on December 20, but Kieran said the recent lack of competitive match activity is not something to hide behind.
“We’ll obviously look at all the factors,” he said. “We haven’t played for a couple of weeks but we’re not prepared to let that be an excuse, nor let the players make any excuses.
“It was a big game for them, a showcase, and the pressure was on for them to first work very hard and then to show their qualities, but I don’t think we were able to do either on this occasion.”