PHOTOS: Burnley FC 0, Middlesbrough 2

AT half-time, Turf Moor rose to acclaim Will Procter and Chris Walter, who cycled around every Premier League ground last week for charity.

But Burnley, after getting on their bike with their first league win in their last outing at Derby, came off it in abrupt fashion against an impressive Middlesbrough.

The Clarets looked like they had square wheels against Tony Mowbray’s well-oiled side, on a worrying afternoon.

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Up against an unusual 5-3-1-1 system, which has had great success so far this season, Howe’s men simply had no answer – despite using three different formations.

Burnley’s wide play has been a big feature of the campaign to date, but against a compact unit, there was no way through, as Keith Treacy and Ross Wallace toiled, while the Clarets couldn’t get Keiran Trippier free on the overlap to add to his assists.

As it was, Jay Rodriguez and Charlie Austin had nothing to feed on, with a lack of creativity offered from central midfield either – Chris McCann and Dean Marney outnumbered and outmuscled in that department. With play condensed in the middle, Burnley went from back to front too often, giving possession back to a side more than proficient with the ball.

When the Clarets weren’t direct, too often passing was laboured, with little in the way of movement and options.

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Boss Howe didn’t try to paper over the cracks after the game: “We’ve no complaints because I thought it was a poor performance from us.

“In previous weeks we have been unlucky in deserving more from the game.

“Today I didn’t think we did. We were beaten by the better team and in the end it was our worst performance of the season by a long way.

“We left our performance on the training pitch and it’s difficult to work out why.

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“On the back of the win against Derby, I decided to keep the same team because I was looking for a similar performance, but a number of players, for whatever reason, didn’t perform.

“It’s concerning for us that it was quite a number. It’s very rare that you get so many off colour – big players too, who we need to perform to have a chance of getting results.”

Lessons could be learned from Boro on and off the pitch. Mowbray returned to the club where he was revered as a player tasked with reigniting the place, having suffered relegation from the Premier League, and the financial fallout that follows.

Boro tried to push the boat out last season for promotion, with a large number of players brought down from the SPL by Gordon Strachan, but, after an encouraging end to last season under Mowbray, he faced savage losses over the summer – much like Howe has had to contend with.

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Middlesbrough lost the likes of Leroy Lita, Kris Boyd, Andrew Taylor and Lee Miller, while looking to cut an astronomical wage bill – sound familiar? The difference is that Mowbray still has much experience from at home and abroad to call upon, to ally with hugely promising youngsters like Joe Bennett.

Howe needs the time to imprint his footballing philosophy, like Mowbray, and this young squad needs a level of patience to improve together.

And some help in terms of loan signings wouldn’t go amiss, with the match day squad down to the 16 on duty and Alex MacDonald on Saturday.

Burnley started positively enough, with Treacy making early inroads down the left, but they were knocked back by an awful goal on 10 minutes.

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Marney couldn’t stop Marvin Emnes, and from Bennett’s cross, Brian Easton appeared to be impeded by Faris Haroun, with the ball finding it way to Nicky Bailey, whose tame half-volley crept into the far corner, with Ben Mee unable to hack it clear, leaving Brian Jensen little time to react.

Boro were happy to sit on their goal after that, with their back five, frustrating Burnley with their ball retention. The referee did the Clarets few favours either, with Bennett given a couple of “lives” after being booked for an awful challenge on Rodriguez, while allowing some tiresome play acting and time wasting to go unchecked.

Chances were few and far between for both sides in the first period, with Barry Robson seeing a snap shot comfortably saved, while at the other end, Ben Mee headed down a Wallace corner and David Edgar hooked over.

But Burnley failed to make any headway in the first period, and Howe made a brave change at half-time, pushing Trippier on one, moving Wallace left, and playing Treacy off the front in a 3-5-2. However, that plan was in tatters within five minutes, as Bennett got in behind Trippier and fed Scott McDonald, and when his shot was saved by Jensen, Bennett followed in to score.

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A minute later, Burnley’s best player on the day, Edgar, headed over the angle from a Wallace corner with the erratic Carl Ikeme beaten, before McCann forced a fine save with a half volley.

With Wallace and Trippier being forced the other way by Bennett and Hoyte, Boro started to pull the Clarets out of position and looked like adding to their lead.

Robson sent a chip just wide, before the one-time Owen Coyle target’s wicked cross just evaded Emnes.

Hoyte then sent Emnes clear, only for a heavy touch to allow Jensen to smother.

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Junior Stanislas, Zavon Hines and Marvin Bartley were all introduced in a bid to save the game, with Stanislas and Hines showing the understanding developed together at West Ham, but still the Clarets were unable to work Ikeme, and the frustration began to spill over.

Rodriguez was fortunate to only see yellow for a lunge on Tony McMahon, as he tried to close down the centre back’s clearance, sparking an unhappy reaction from Boro.

That lingered on after the final whistle, with words exchanged, while Jason Tindall passed on his thoughts in no uncertain terms to the officials.