LET’S, on this occasion, give Middlesbrough the benefit of the doubt because the conditions were never going to allow a team to reach its full potential with Storm Dennis hanging around.

But one thing is a lot clearer, if Jonathan Woodgate can’t come up with a way for this nine-match run without a win, seven in the league, to end then the clouds above the Riverside Stadium are going to be even darker.

Make no mistake Middlesbrough are in a relegation fight once again having failed to win either of the two games against the sides occupying the bottom two positions in the Championship.

One point from games with Wigan and Luton Town, at home, is not the way to cement a place in the second tier.

The advantage held over the relegation zone has reduced to six points and Middlesbrough head to Barnsley, who will be buoyed by the brilliant 3-0 win at automatic promotion contenders Fulham on Saturday, next knowing defeat is almost unthinkable.

If there are repeats of the Wigan and Luton performances then Barnsley will stand every chance of ending their own run of three straight defeats at Oakwell – after all the Hatters had lost 12 straight away games before leaving Teesside with three points.

With the rain pouring down and the gusty wind swirling around the Riverside, it was never going to be easy to deliver free-flowing football.

What should have still been achieved is a gutsy, determined display to warm the hearts of the Middlesbrough locals. That never arrived. In fact, it was a complete opposite.

Middlesbrough looked second best in many areas of the pitch against a Luton side which was hardly brilliant either, and that has to be the most galling thing to have come from losing at home to Town for the first time since 1972.

Woodgate, who could hear the loud boos from the stands that greeted both the half-time and full-time whistles, said: “We weren’t good enough, our final ball at times was terrible, we got into good areas but didn’t deliver. A lot of balls were blasted across the face of goal.

“We have got more quality than that, that’s the frustrating thing and we should show more quality and like. I don’t blame the fans for booing us because I’d have done exactly the same.

“What I do expect is my players, when the going gets tough and they are getting a bit of stick off the crowd, they stand up and start showing character. I said to them at half-time, the positive is you can’t play worse than that. Actually they did.”

There have been aspects of Middlesbrough’s play during the recent slump that has been positive. It is the struggle to come up with any from the last two games, barring perhaps the two goals Lewis Wing scored at Wigan and the return to full fitness of captain George Friend, that has got the alarm bells ringing.

Friend will not have wanted to make his long-awaited comeback in a losing side at the Riverside, that’s for sure. And without being brilliant, the defence was not really the issue against a pretty toothless Luton, who still managed to look marginally more threatening than their North-East counterparts.

When Ryan Tunnicliffe made Middlesbrough pay for a sloppy start to the game in the 17th minute when he swept a finish inside Aynsley Pears’ bottom right corner, the home side were certainly not out of it and had they shown greater desire and quality then the chances are they would have avoided that latest loss.

But Middlesbrough, who you could argue did have an effort on target before the opener when Paddy McNair’s lowly driven cross to the near post had to be held by goalkeeper Simon Sluga, couldn’t even conjure up a shot to test the Luton keeper never mind level things up.

The nearest Middlesbrough came to equalising was when Britt Assombalonga headed high and wide from inside six yards with 16 minutes remaining. Rudy Gestede, another attacking substitute, lurked just behind and questioned why it was not left for him after Hayden Coulson’s run and cross.

That moment was arguably the only bright spot of an otherwise dreadful Middlesbrough display that has seen relegation concerns among supporters resurface, and left them quite rightly wondering what Woodgate tried to do against Luton.

He is a young manager learning and he needs to have taken something from Saturday’s defeat, on an afternoon when it did look like too much recent tinkering had taken its toll on a team’s cohesion and progress.

What has happened to the Middlesbrough side that won four in a row during a December which earned him manager of the month? That was a time when the youthful energy with the side proved too much for the teams they would come up against, including an excellent West Brom.

Marcus Tavernier was the latest of the young guns to be taken out of the side against Luton, having asked Djed Spence to sit on the bench in the previous two matches. Woodgate’s explanation is that the youngsters need protection from burn-out, but Middlesbrough need protecting from the bottom three right now.

“We’ve always been (in the relegation fight), we’ve never been out of it. We were ten points clear, with them games coming thick and fast you can always get back into it,” said Woodgate.

“Even when we had that spell when we were playing well and won four on the bounce, I did say there’d be times where it’d tough and we’re going through a rough period now.

“Of course, I’m disappointed. I’m always disappointed if we don’t win a game. I won’t discuss what I spoke to them about but I wasn’t happy at all with the performance and that’s all I’ll say on that.”

Woodgate has a difficult balancing act with the youngsters because it does seem wrong to have to rely heavily on them, but that is the direction Middlesbrough have chosen to go down since the end of last season.

Only he will know what decisions he would have done differently if Middlesbrough were to face Luton again, but it was a surprise not to see his deadline day signing Ravel Morrison make his home debut having fared reasonably well in midweek at Wigan.

Lukas Nmecha, another youngster having arrived on loan from Manchester City last month, struggled in the conditions to get going against Luton and was unable to hold play up having been preferred to start alongside Ashley Fletcher.

In the end both of those were joined by Assombalonga and Gestede as Woodgate effectively played with a four-pronged attack in a desperate attempt to salvage a point.

While ambitious and potentially exciting, the problem then was that there was no supply line to them with a lack of creativity in behind - perhaps the creativity Morrison was signed to produce may have helped.

Having headed into this run of games against sides in the bottom three hoping for a stretch of victories before dates with Leeds United and Nottingham Forest, Middlesbrough suddenly find themselves looking at a trip to Barnsley with even greater significance.

“Anything is possible in the Championship and like I’ve said all along anyone can turn up and beat anyone. Look at what Barnsley did at Fulham,” said Woodgate.

“It’s a reflection of how crazy the league is. Anyone can beat anyone, if you turn up and play well you bring your A game and the top teams don’t play well then you can get beat. It’s a six points difference with goal difference, our goal difference is a lot better.

“You have to turn up in games. Like I say, we didn’t get to grips with the game. They spoilt it at times, fair play they did what they had to do.” And now Middlesbrough have to do what they must do too.