AFTER almost four years of night fever, the lights finally dimmed at the Riverside.
Middlesbrough’s proud and remarkable run of 40 home fixtures without a league defeat under the floodlights on Teesside – stretching back to February 2013 – finally ran aground in spectacular fashion as Liverpool firmly re-established their title credentials.
It proved a sobering occasion for Aitor Karanka and Boro and while the fates of their season will not be decided on games against the likes of the Merseysiders, his side’s second-half descent was alarming.
After a decent first-half effort, Boro simply could not live with Liverpool on the restart, with their high-octane, slick and pacy football helping to inflict the harshest lesson yet on Boro’s top-flight return.
Admittedly, mistakes did not help their cause, although the class prevalent in the goals notched by Divock Origi and Adam Lallana – who had fired Jurgen Klopp’s side in front on 29 minutes – was beyond doubt.
It remains to be seen if any psychological damage has been inflicted ahead of a much bigger home game for Boro against Swansea on Saturday, but the hosts’ thoroughly sloppy and chastening second period certainly did not augur well.
Usually so sound in their game management, Boro – who had pushed another silverware contender in Chelsea all the way, while taking points from Arsenal and Manchester City in the autumn – lost their way badly and uncharacteristically.
Their usually iron back four simply had no answers to the movement of the likes of Saido Mane, Lallana and Origi on the resumption.
It ensured for a relatively straight-forward evening for recalled keeper Simon Mignolet, making his first league appearance since September 16 in place of Loris Karius, withdrawn from the firing line following several gaffes. Despite a fairly even if inauspicious first-half, Boro did not look like replicating the efforts of Burnley and Bournemouth in surprising Liverpool from the moment Lallana put the visitors in front.
The pre-match talk was about goals – or specifically the lack of them from a Boro perspective –with the Teessiders boasting the unenviable record of being the lowest scorers in the Premier Division with a paltry 13 goals.
Liverpool, by contrast, led the charts with a bountiful 37, although a run of just one goal in their previous seven winless Riverside outings represented something to provide a touch of historical solace for home supporters.
The majority of the first half hardly hinted at a goalfest, with Liverpool monopolising possession, but failing to prise open the gaps behind Boro’s well-drilled rearguard until conjuring one moment of telling quality.
Boro’s left flank was momentarily unstationed and the visitors needed no second invitation, with the ball played out quickly to Nathaniel Clyne, whose excellent cross was headed home adeptly by the onrushing Lallana.
It was a deflating moment for Boro – who had gone the closest earlier through Ben Gibson’s header – but to their credit, their riposte was swift, with the recalled Mignolet earning his corn to impressively beat away Victor Fischer’s near-post piledriver.
Being forced to take the game to their opponents left Boro open to the counter and a searing break almost resulted in a second with Mane striking the base of the post and Origi’s follow-up flying into the side-netting.
Victor Valdes prevented a second goal transpiring by making a key early second-half save to deny Mane, who then saw a point-blank effort blocked by Calum Chambers, with appeals for a spot-kick rebuffed as the visitors scented blood.
It was starting to turn into a much more comfortable night for Liverpool at a venue that has not exactly been accommodating over the years, with Boro – whose chief threat in Adama Traore had his moments in the first half –looking somewhat ragged.
Karanka spotted the danger signs and soon brought on the experienced figures of Stewart Downing and Grant Leadbitter to try and restore some order.
It failed to do the trick with a slick three-man move involving the impressive Mane, Georginio Wijnaldum and Lallana finished off clinically by Origi, firing coolly past Valdes.
Liverpool were looking increasingly rampant and another sumptuous strike added to their tally on 68 minutes with superb interplay between Mane and Origi ending with Lallana emphatically firing home to take his side’s top-flight goals tally to a healthy 40.
Middlesbrough: Valdes; Barragan, Chambers, Gibson, Fabio; Clayton (Leadbitter 55); Traore, Forshaw, De Roon, Fischer (Downing 55); Negredo (Rhodes 77). Substitutes unused: Guzan, Nsue, Bernando, Nugent.
Liverpool: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Klavan, Milner; Wijnaldum (Ejaria 87), Henderson, Lallana (Lucas 82); Mane, Origi (Alexander 90), Firmino. Substitutes unused: Karius, Moreno, Stewart, Woodburn.
Referee: J Moss (West Yorkshire).