Middlesbrough boss Jonathan Woodgate admitted a golden opportunity for Britt Assombalonga chance was key to his side’s defeat at Derby County on Saturday.
Tom Lawrence scored twice while the visitors had George Saville shown a red card for a first-half lunge on Krystian Bielik and remain in the relegation zone.
It might have been different if Assombalonga had scored in the second minute but with the goal gaping his shot deflected behind off Matt Clarke.
Derby went ahead in the 22nd minute when Lawrence exchanged passes with Jack Marriott before driving a low shot past Aynsley Pears.
Boro’s task got harder 10 minutes later when Saville was dismissed for a high challenge and they rarely threatened to disturb Derby’s hold on the game.
Chris Martin fired over when he should have scored, Duane Holmes twice went close and Jayden Bogles was denied by Pears before Lawrence sealed victory in the 84th minute.
Bogle played in Lawrence who beat Pears from an angle to give Cocu a happy ending to another tough week.
“It’s unbelievable really, it’s a huge chance and you’ve got to take it,” said a frustrated Woodgate afterwards.
“It’s a cliche but it’s fine margins in games. We don’t score and then we get a man sent off and it’s really difficult then.
“We are creating opportunities and I have to say easy opportunities.
“It’s not just the forwards, you can’t just pin the blame on their door, it’s all the players and they need to start scoring.
“You can say it’s luck but it comes down to putting the ball in the onion bag. You’ve got to do it, you’ve got to concentrate on the fine little things, we have to take our chances.
“We have to stay positive and together as a group and knuckle down as individuals and as a team because that’s how you get out of this situation.”
The sacking of captain Richard Keogh for gross misconduct earlier in the week, could have impacted on the Derby, boss Philip Cocu added: “The dynamic and the spirit in the team was really good and that was important for me to see.”
Derby County: Roos, Bogle, Davies, Clarke, Malone (Lowe 85), Shinnie, Bielik (Evans 53), Marriott, Holmes, Lawrence, Martin (Waghorn 67). Unused substitutes: Wisdom, Paterson, Dowell, Hamer.
Middlesbrough: Pears, McNair, Ayala, Fry, Howson, Tavernier, Wing (Coulson 80), Saville, Johnson (Walker 79), Browne (Dijksteel 35), Assombalonga. Unused substitutes: Mejias, Clayton, Wood-Gordon, Liddle.
Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).