Marko Arnautovic scored twice as Stoke City sent Middlesbrough tumbling into the Premier League relegation zone with a routine 2-0 home win on Saturday.
The Austria international struck twice in the first half — his fifth and sixth goals of the season — to get Mark Hughes’s men back to winning ways after their 4-0 loss at Tottenham Hotspur.
While Stoke rose one place to ninth, Boro skidded down to 18th after a 10th successive league game without victory.
Aitor Karanka’s team have not scored in four league games and are looking increasingly likely candidates for the drop.
Boro’s afternoon got off to a bad start when centre-back Daniel Ayala was forced off by an apparent hamstring injury in the eighth minute, with Bernardo Espinosa taking his place.
There were sights of goal for Boro, the recalled Rudy Gestede heading straight at Lee Grant and Marten de Roon seeing a shot blocked by Geoff Cameron, but the hosts looked the more likely scorers.
They hit the woodwork in the 15th minute, Ramadan Sobhi slamming an effort against the bar from Arnautovic’s right-wing cross, with Joe Allen putting the rebound high and wide.
It was a warning Boro did not heed as Stoke broke through in the 29th minute, Arnautovic plucking a high ball from the sky before skipping past goalkeeper Victor Valdes and smashing home.
Grant Leadbitter threatened to pull Boro level, his shot taking a deflection off Cameron and rolling narrowly wide, but three minutes before half-time it was 2-0.
Peter Crouch nodded down a corner for Arnautovic, who swivelled and scored from close range.
Ben Gibson thought he had brought Boro back into the game when he stabbed home on the hour, only to be denied by an offside flag.
The impressive Sobhi threatened to swell Stoke’s lead in the closing stages, but his header from Glenn Whelan’s flighted pass was smartly repelled by Valdes.
Sobhi then set Ibrahim Afellay clear, but Valdes came to Boro’s rescue again.