MIDDLESBROUGH are still searching for their first points of 2012 after suffering a potentially damaging defeat to morale at the Championship's bottom club, Coventry City.
Boro's cause was not helped by a controversial decision from referee Gary Sutton to send off Kevin Thomson for two bookable offences just two minutes after the Sky Blues had taken a first half lead through Gary McShefferey.
And then things worsened in injury-time when Julio Arca, the former Sunderland midfielder, was handed a three-match ban for a straight red card for a foul on Sammy Clingan.
It is a moment that has cost Arca, and his team-mates, his appearance against the Black Cats at the Stadium of Light next Sunday.
Boro did not help themselves at the Ricoh Arena, when poor defending allowed Coventry to end a run of three successive defeats in fine style with a 3-1 win.
While Lukas Jukiewicz, who recently left Coventry to join Boro for £1.5m, was left in the stands because of an agreement between the two managers, another player familiar to both clubs took centre stage.
Alex Nimely, making his debut for Andy Thorn's side following his loan from Manchester City, set up the first, scored a second and then had a role to play in the third, which was a Matthew Bates own goal.
Scott McDonald did pull one back with plenty of time remaining for Middlesbrough, but that was small consolation for Tony Mowbray, whose side have now failed to win any of their three Championship games since the turn of the year.
Mowbray had every right to be frustrated. His players should have been ahead within the first ten minutes, with McDonald culpable for wasting three good opportunities.
And when Clive Platt played a cute pass in to Nimely, he rolled McShefferey in behind the visiting defence to slot beneath Danny Coyne.
Then Thomson, having already picked up a harsh yellow card for a first tackle on full-back Cyrus Christie, was given a second booking for leaving his foot in on McShefferey deep inside the Coventry half.
That paved the way for a second half in which Coventry took control. Their second arrived when Nimely, who failed to score in ten games for Boro, headed over the line despite Rhys Williams' attempts to clear.
And four minutes later Nimely was involved again. This time he rolled out wide to substitute David Bell, whose low cross was miss-hit by Platt on to Bates and the ball trickled beyond Coyne.
Coventry, who had never previously scored three this season, couldn't believe their luck. Even though McDonald pulled one back shortly after for Middlesbrough, the damage had already been done and then Arca saw red.