AT the half-time interval of last night’s Carabao Cup second-round tie at the Riverside, with Middlesbrough trailing Barnsley by two goals after a lacklustre first-half display, Blackburn Rovers announced they had signed Daniel Ayala on a three-year deal. The timing could hardly have been more fitting.

Two weeks into the new season, and Boro have still not replaced Ayala or most of the other senior players that left at the end of last term. With that in mind, it should not be too surprising that they have slumped to two defeats in the space of five days.

Last night’s Carabao Cup loss at the hands of Barnsley was hardly a disaster – it is a safe bet that the Tykes will exit the competition next week given they will be heading to Chelsea in round three – but the 2-0 reverse nevertheless provided further evidence of the lack of depth in Neil Warnock’s squad.

The Boro boss made seven changes in an attempt to rest most of his leading lights for Saturday’s league game with Bournemouth, and to a man, his understudies fluffed their lines. As things stand, though, he will have to rely on them week in, week out if two or three senior players pick up injuries, and while the departure of the likes of Ayala, George Friend, Ryan Shotton and Adam Clayton was hardly unexpected, the failure to adequately replace them by the mid-point of September is much more difficult to fathom.

It has left Warnock short of senior options, something he will be desperate to address before the transfer window closes next month. If he cannot add to his three signings so far this summer, nights like yesterday evening might well become the norm.

Boro were found wanting at both ends of the field as their interest in the League Cup ended, with first-half goals from Patrick Schmidt and Jordan Williams owing much to some poor defending. Nathan Wood was found wanting for the first goal, with Hayden Coulson at fault for the second, although goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli hardly covered himself in glory either as he was beaten at his near post on both occasions.

At the other end of the pitch, Boro’s attackers offered little, with Barnsley goalkeeper Bradley Collins only called into action to make a handful of routine saves. Ashley Fletcher had an off-night, although he was hardly showered with chances before he was replaced with 21 minutes left, while Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier were restricted to hopeful efforts from distance. Lacking pace and creativity in the central third, Boro’s attacks were easily contained by the Barnsley defence.

As a result, Warnock’s seven changes will almost certainly be reversed when Bournemouth visit the Riverside in the league at the weekend. It might only be the second week of the season, but last night’s game still felt like a make-or-break moment for a number of Boro’s fringe players, who need to convince Warnock they merit an extended run in the team. Having taken up a perch in the West Stand while Kevin Blackwell oversaw proceedings in the technical area, the Boro boss will not feel compelled to reassess his pecking order as a result of his evening’s viewing.

Apart from Sam Morsy, who delivered a decent enough debut performance at the base of midfield, it is hard to think of a single Boro player who emerged with any credit from a performance that underlined the need for further reinforcements before the transfer window closes next month.

In defence, neither Dael Fry nor Wood did their cause much good, with the latter looking especially hesitant as Barnsley’s attackers fashioned a series of slick passing moves in and around the 18-yard box. Touted as Boro’s next big thing a year or so ago, the 18-year-old looks as though he would benefit from a loan spell in either League One or Two, although Warnock will be understandably reluctant to lose him unless he can add a couple of new defenders.

Neither Marc Bola nor Coulson looked comfortable in the wing-back positions, although the latter, who was badly at fault for Barnsley’s second goal, at least had the excuse that he was playing on the right-hand side when he is clearly much more at home on the left. Bola, who spent the second half of last season on loan at his previous club, Blackpool, is yet to turn in a convincing performance in a Middlesbrough shirt.

Further up the field, Marcus Browne was similarly ineffective, and while the winger starred with Oxford United in the second half of last season, he, like, Bola, is yet to produce anything for Boro that suggests he will make a success of his step up from League One.

He partnered Fletcher in attack last night, but aside from an early glanced header that flew wide of the target, he never really looked like troubling the Barnsley defence.

Boro’s rearguard was breached twice before the interval, and on both occasions, recently-signed goalkeeper Bettinelli will feel he should have done better.

He appeared to be taken by surprise when Schmidt broke the deadlock midway through the first half, with the Austrian goalkeeper stroking home a first-time finish from the right-hand side of the box. Schmidt was afforded far too much space, with the build-up to the goal featuring a lovely spin by Kilian Ludewig that took him away from a flat-footed Wood.

Twelve minutes later, and Bettinelli was beaten at his near post again, this time by Williams. The wing-back burst behind an out-of-position Coulson to reach Luke Thomas’ perfectly-weighted through ball, and prodded home a neat finish that flew past Bettinelli’s right hand.

Boro’s attacking amounted to little all night, with Browne failing to link up with Fletcher, and neither Tavernier nor Wing making any kind of an impact in the 18-yard box.

Browne glanced a fifth-minute header wide of the target after Bola crossed from the left, but it was the half-hour mark before the hosts threatened again, and even that was a half-chance at best with Wing whipping a long-range free-kick wide of the post.

Coulson tried his luck at the start of the second half, curling in a 20-yard strike that Bradley Collins saved, but while the Barnsley goalkeeper was called into action again with 20 minutes left, getting down well to keep out Tavernier’s driven shot, Boro never looked like setting up a dramatic finale.

Substitute Sam Folarin made a mess of trying to connect with a late cross from Paddy McNair, and Barnsley were able to confirm their trip to Stamford Bridge with precious little fuss.