MIDDLESBROUGH went down to defeat at the hands of Real Betis – and also suffered an injury blow that could have major repercussions once the real action begins in the Championship next month.

Ayoze Perez scored the only goal of the game in the second half at Chesterfield’s SMH Group Stadium, with the former Newcastle United forward swivelling in the 18-yard box before firing home, but the biggest blow Boro suffered came before the interval with Tommy Smith suffering what appeared to be an extremely serious injury.

Smith left the field strapped to a stretcher after injuring himself as he stretched to make a challenge, and was in obvious discomfort as he was carried off with his head in his hands.

With just two weeks until the opening weekend of the Championship season, Michael Carrick could well find himself without his first-choice right-back for a lengthy spell. He is also short of options at left-back with Ryan Giles, who impressed during last season’s loan spell on Teesside, seemingly on the verge of a move to Luton Town.

Everything was going smoothly from a Boro perspective for the opening 29 minutes of today’s game, with the Teessiders causing the Real Betis defence problems with their slick attacking play.

Hayden Hackney and Dan Barlaser were especially impressive at the heart of midfield, threading balls forward and constantly looking to pick out summer signing Morgan Rogers, who led the line ahead of Matt Crooks.

Napaul Akoukoume made an excellent last-ditch intervention to prevent Rogers meeting Riley McGree’s early cross, while Claudio Bravo was called into action inside the opening ten minutes to keep out Rogers’ low shot with his legs.

The Northern Echo: Morgan Rogers fires in a shot against Real BetisMorgan Rogers fires in a shot against Real Betis (Image: The Northern Echo)

Hackney whistled a 25-yard shot just wide of the target, but Boro’s afternoon was to take a major turn for the worse just before the half-hour mark.

Smith got caught on the wrong side of his opponent, and stretched backwards in an attempt to prevent him breaking into the 18-yard box. He crumpled to the turf, with a number of his team-mates immediately signalling for Boro’s medical staff to come onto the field.

A quick examination from Boro’s medics was rapidly followed by a signal to the touchline for a stretcher. After a delay of three or four minutes, Smith was taken off the pitch with his legs strapped to the stretcher.

Time will tell just how serious the injury is, but given the fact that Smith had his head in his hands as he was taken off the pitch, there has to be a strong chance that the defender is facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines. What that would mean for Boro’s summer transfer business remains to be seen.

Understandably, the incident led to a subdued atmosphere for the remainder of the first half, with Boro fortunate not to fall behind when they made a mess of trying to play out from the back. Betis’ forwards failed to capitalise on their good position in the 18-yard box, with Hackney getting back to hack clear.

Marcus Forss went close at the other end at the start of the second half, sweeping a low shot just wide of the post after swooping on a loose ball on the edge of the area, but Betis also threatened when Juan Cruz fired just wide after Hayden Coulson failed to cut out a long cross-field pass.

The Spaniards were much improved after the interval, and claimed the lead in the 64th minute.  Martin Montoya delivered a low cross from the right, and after swivelling in the 18-yard box, Perez fired a clinical low finish into the bottom left-hand corner.

Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Dieng; Smith (van den Berg 33), Fry, Lenihan, Coulson (Collins 81); Hackney, Barlaser (Payero 81); Forss (I Jones 74), Crooks (Silvera 65), McGree (Hoppe 81); Rogers (Gilbert 81).

Subs (not used): Glover (gk), J Jones (gk), Agyemang.