ALARMINGLY, when Burton Albion boss Paul Peschisolido was asked about his side's performance in their FA Cup upset against Middlesbrough, he claimed it was one of their poorest displays of the season.
Even more alarmingly, his opposite number, Tony Mowbray, could not say the same.
Middlesbrough have played much, much worse during an increasingly miserable campaign, yet they were still unable to see off a side currently five places above the foot of the League Two table.
What does that tell you about their chances of avoiding relegation from the Championship between now and the beginning of May
On paper, this might look like a traditional FA Cup shock. A tight lower-league ground, a muddy quagmire of a playing surface, plucky, fired-up opponents, and an incessant spell of pressure that eventually causes the more fancied of the two sides to crack.
On the pitch at a modern, inviting Pirelli Stadium, however, it was anything but.
For large tracts of the t h i r d - r o u n d tie, Burton were every bit as poor as their lowly league position suggests.
They didn't force Danny Coyne into a single save in the opening 80 minutes, and for the majority of the m a t c h , Peschisolido was tearing his hair out on the touchline, such was the paucity of his players' performance.
The problem from a visiting perspective, however, was that Middlesbrough were not much better. And on the occasions that they were, they were incapable of making their superiority count.
We are where we are, said a disconsolate Tony Mowbray.
We haven't won that many football matches going back over a number of years, never mind the last few games.
We have to get better footballers in to move this club forward. If that means some of the existing players falling by the wayside along the way, so be it.
You need people who can stick the ball in the net, and we're struggling to do that.
You get scorelines like this because you don't take your chances.
We've conceded in the last minute again and that's obviously disappointing.
But we had plenty of chances to put the game to bed, and what happened late on wouldn't have made any difference if we had applied ourselves better in the rest of the game. We should have put the game away way before then.
Attack will clearly be a priority when Mowbray sets about spending some of the money he is expected to receive from the sale of David Wheater this week, with neither Kris Boyd nor Leroy Lita looking particularly convincing at the weekend, despite playing against a Burton defence that featured 3 6 - y e a r - o l d Darren Moore.
Boyd was unfortunate to have a 48thminute effort chalked off for offside. The Scotland international was level with the last defender when he tapped home the rebound from Tony McMahon's strike against the upright.
But Boyd's movement was minimal and his link-up play rarely allowed Boro's midfielders to join in the attack.
He was also profligate, heading McMahon's cross wide from no more than eight yards and skewing a 78thminute effort across the face of goal when free in the inside- right channel.
Lita was no more effective, with his touch letting him down on far too many occasions as he was muscled out of things by a rugged Burton backline.
As a result, it was no surprise that Boro's goal involved little in the way of build-up play. Lita drew a foul from Russell Penn, and Gary O'Neil curled a superb free-kick into the top left-hand corner.
If we take a better ratio of our chances, what happens in the rest of a football game doesn't matter, said Mowbray.
That's where we're letting ourselves down. One goal is not enough for us at the moment.
It wasn't on Saturday, even if there were few signs of a Burton recovery as the clock ticked past the 80-minute mark.
While Boro were far from fluent, their midfield appeared to have established sufficient superiority to see things out.
Nicky Bailey's industry and O'Neil's equally energetic running prevented Burton's players from generating any attacking momentum.
When it comes to the Teessiders, however, anything can happen in the closing stages of a game, and after Shaun Harrad had equalised with eight minutes left, muscling ahead of Seb Hines to hook Adam Bolder's hanging cross into the net, a sting in the tail felt inevitable.
It had arrived at Doncaster and Leeds, when Boro passed up three priceless Championship points, and for the third time in five matches Mowbray's side again conceded a stoppage-time strike.
Matthew Bates failed to clear Scott Malone's free-kick from the left, and Harrad was able to hammer home unmarked, despite Coyne getting some of his body to the ball.
The Gareth Southgate era was peppered with a succession of costly late concessions, but if anything, things have got even worse under Mowbray.
Psychologist Bill Beswick was mocked for his description of red zones' under Steve McClaren. But whether it is in the mind or not, something clearly needs to be done to prevent the side imploding in the closing stages of a game.
It's something we're going to have to look at, said Mowbray.
Although when a team is only 1-0 down, they will always put you under pressure in the last few minutes. We have to get to a position where we're not putting ourselves in that place.
As a result of Boro's capitulation, Burton have a place in the FA Cup fourth round for the first time in their history.
The Teessiders Well as the age-old cliche goes, they are now free to concentrate on the league.
Although on the evidence of the 94th-minute events at the Pirelli Stadium, merely concentrating on anything would be a start.
Match facts Goals:
0-1: O'Neil (58, curled direct freekick into top left-hand corner after Penn had fouled Lita)
1-1: Harrad (82, acrobatically hooked Bolder's right-wing cross into the net after muscling past Hines)
2-1: Harrad (90, hammered home from ten yards after Bates failed to clear Malone's free-kick)
Bookings: Penn (41, foul)
Referee: Steve Tanner (Bristol) - Allowed the occasional meaty challenge to go unpunished, but was let down by his assistant, who flagged Boyd offside 6
Legzdins 6; Austin 7, Stanton 6 (James 46, 6), Moore 6 (Phillips 56, 6), Malone 8; McGrath 6 (Pearson 52, 6), Bolder 6, Penn 5, Webster 5, Maghoma 6; HARRAD 8.
Subs (not used): Poole (gk), Boertien, Young, Hughes.
4 Coyne: Hardly had anything to do all game, but might have done better with Harrad's last-minute winner
6 McMahon: Defended fairly well and unfortunate with a strike that hit the post
6 Bates: Boro's best player for most of the game, but blotted his copybook in the run up to Harrad's second
5 Hines: Was out-muscled far too easily as Burton levelled but will be a key player if Wheater leaves
5 Bennett: Pushed forward well, but should have got closer when Bolder crossed for Burton's opener
4 Hoyte: Effort couldn't be faulted, but doesn't look comfortable in an attacking midfield position
6 BAILEY: Neat and tidy at the base of midfield and looked to have established a winning position before things changed late on
5 Arca: Rarely conceded possession, but didn't look like threading a telling ball behind the Burton back four
6 O'Neil: Broke the deadlock with a superb free-kick and was Boro's most effective midfielder going forward
4 Lita: Gave the ball away far too often and failed to engineer a meaningful opening all afternoon
4 Boyd: Wasted a number of decent chances, although was unfortunate to have a goal chalked off for offside
Franks (for Boyd, 83) (not used): Ripley (gk), Halliday, L Williams, Smallwood, Park, Kink.
MAN OF THE MATCH
SHAUN Harrad while Boro squandered a succession of openings, Burton's lone striker had two chances and scored from them both.
Source: Northern Echo
Source: Northern Echo