Boro turned in their worst Cup performance for over a decade en route to a pitiful 1-0 Riverside defeat to Nigel Clough’s Brewers, with the League One visitors booking their place in the semi-finals of the competition in comfort – making a mockery of the fact that they were 33 places below the Teessiders in the Football League pyramid.
The wretched result and display extended Boro’s miserable start to December, with home players jeered during parts of the second half and also receiving a barrage of boos at the final whistle.
After being firm top-two automatic promotion contenders a month ago, Tony Pulis’s side – winless in their past five matches in all competitions – now occupy the final Championship play-off place and hold just a slender one-point advantage.
The chances of Boro – whose attacking performances have dipped alarmingly in the past two months – affording themselves a confidence boost against Burton was abjectly passed up and it has intensified pressure on the club’s players and Pulis to turn things around in forthcoming festive games against the struggling trio of Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich Town.
On his message to sections of fans amid growing disquiet, Middlesbrough-born Downing said: “Stick with us. It is probably hard for them to take that at the minute, and their reaction was understandable.
“I expected to win, I am disappointed myself. If I came as a fan and we did not win, I am sure I would be disappointed. But it is part and parcel of football. You have to move on.
“We have got good backing here. We have had a bit of a sticky spell, which you get in a season. It is not always rosy, it is how you come through that that counts. We need the fans.
“We have got some big games at home, and my message is stick with us. We will try our hardest to turn the corner.
“We have got a big period coming up and a good win on Saturday could turn things around.”
Tuesday was a night when few home players emerged with credit, with just veteran Downing – who was the hosts’ main creative source in the first half – and recalled club captain Grant Leadbitter perhaps being the exceptions.
Downing admits it is the job of experienced players such as himself and Leadbitter to front up and lead by example during some difficult and testing times at Boro, who have won just three times in their past 11 matches and twice in their past nine outings in league and cup at the Riverside.
The former England international, who turns 35 next summer, added: “We have to keep working hard. There is no point sulking, that is not going to help.
“We have got a lot of experienced players in the dressing room, and they will have to stand up and help the young lads through.
“We are in a time when ‘stick’ will be thrown and blame; whatever it is, and you have to come through that. It happens.
“When confidence is down and you are getting a bit of stick from the fans, that’s when you have to stand up.
“This (Burton loss) is a big blow for us because we were expected to win, but we have not got time to dwell on it because we have four games in a really short space of time now.
“We need to bounce back as quickly as possible because we need some big results. We are looking at winnable games, but Tuesday was a winnable game and we lost.
“We need to be winning games because, if we want to be promoted, then we have to start winning again.”