AFTER 38 matches, 20 defeats and only five wins, Middlesbrough’s one season stay in the Premier League is over. Fittingly, like so often over the last nine months, the final game ended in disappointment at Anfield.

There was to be no last Boro hurrah in what is likely to be Steve Agnew’s last match as head coach, as Liverpool eventually took command to win comfortably and secure the points that guaranteed a Champions League spot for only the second time in eight years.

Things might have turned out differently on Merseyside had referee Martin Atkinson not completely got a major decision wrong in the game when it was goalless.

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He ought to have pointed to the spot when Patrick Bamford was tripped by Dejan Lovren, who could also have been sent off for the incident. Instead neither happened, and that allowed Liverpool to build from there.

Former Newcastle United midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum powered in the first on the stroke of half-time before two goals inside four second half minutes from Phillipe Coutinho, a brilliant free-kick, and Adam Lallana made the points safe.

The result didn’t alter anything in terms of Middlesbrough’s position because relegation was confirmed a fortnight ago. Losing 3-0 was just not the way Agnew and his dejected players wanted to bow out, even if they all still trooped over to applaud the away following and that was acknowledged in return.

Regardless of what happened over this 990 minutes, the reality is that there was always going to be an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction once the final whistle was blown because Middlesbrough’s time in the top tier has been short-lived.

It feels like a wasted opportunity having worked so hard over the last to few years to climb out of the Championship and it does feel like they have not attacked it in the way they should; before and after Aitor Karanka’s exit in March.

The challenge facing Middlesbrough is to make sure they don’t have to wait another seven years to return to places like Anfield – where they have not won since March 1976 under Jack Charlton - in the Premier League.

A big summer awaits and chairman Steve Gibson needs to act swiftly and decisively on the managerial front to give Middlesbrough the best possible chance of being prepared for the second tier once again.

There may have been very little riding on this game at Liverpool from a Middlesbrough perspective but that did not stop them from digging deep initially to frustrate an opposition who knew Champions League football was at stake.

Agnew surprisingly only named Marten de Roon and Alvaro Negredo on the bench, a couple of the Teessiders’ better players this season, and that seem to suggest there was half an eye on next season.

But Adam Forshaw, de Roon’s replacement, didn’t disappoint in the first half as part of the midfield Middlesbrough three that spent a large chunk of the game on the back foot and that triumvirate helped provide the extra protection required for the men at the back.

Liverpool saw most of the ball in the opening half an hour and yet failed to do enough with it in the final third to breakdown a resilient backline.

There were regular efforts on goal from Liverpool during that period. However, Brad Guzan, playing his final Middlesbrough game before joining Atalanta, had not been seriously tested until WIjnaldum’s powered opener on the stroke of half-time.

The best of Liverpool’s earliest chances fell to Nathaniel Clyne, when he dragged an effort from inside the area wide when it looked like the first goal might come sooner than it actually did.

Other than that, though, Ben Gibson and Calum Chambers got their bodies in the way of a number of drives from outside the area, while those that did sneak through were gathered rather routinely by Guzan.

Liverpool’s frustrations caused a bit of anxiety among the home fans and that would have been even more apparent had referee Martin Atkinson awarded a penalty the whole of Anfield expected.

Bamford, lively down the right after ending his goal drought last weekend, wriggled his way in behind Lovren and the Croatian centre-back appeared to trip the forward in the box. As the last man, he would have been in danger of being red carded too had it been given.

But Atkinson waved play on and Middlesbrough’s break never arrived, even if that incident did offer the visitors the encouragement to press forward more – and ultimately that ended up proving costly before the break.

Just when it seemed Middlesbrough might make it to the dressing room level, Emre Can’s diagonal pass was brought under control by Wijnaldum. Space opened up in front of him and the Dutchman drilled a rasping drive inside Guzan’s near post moments before the whistle.

If Middlesbrough were to get something out of the final game then they required someone to find the net; which they have only done 27 times in the Premier League all season.

But Liverpool’s weakness is at the back and dealing with centres, which was why Middlesbrough tried to send balls into the area for Rudy Gestede, preferred to Negredo, to challenge in the air.

That looked like being a tactic to be used more frequently at the start of the second half, only for Coutinho’s brilliance to soon render it pretty insignificant.

It was Sturridge who earned the free-kick when his trickery drew a foul from Adam Clayton 25 yards from goal. Coutinho did the rest, cleverly curling through the wall where two red shirts ducked and low inside Guzan’s far corner. The American shot-stopper had been caught out.

After that Liverpool were in free-flow and it became a question of how many Middlesbrough could keep the scoreline down to. Four minutes later the third arrived.

A Middlesbrough attack broke down and Liverpool countered. Lallana was the main driving force of that and eventually the ball worked its way back to him in the area where he skipped past one man before finding the bottom right corner of Guzan’s net.

There were no further goals, but the damage had already been done. In truth, the damage was done long before Middlesbrough travelled to Anfield and their dip into the Premier League is over.