IT was difficult to come away from the Riverside without the feeling of being short-changed.

Wanderers worked hard for 45 minutes and matched their hosts stride for stride, yet having fallen behind to a deflected shot possessed neither the nous or the ability to get their way back into the game.

David Wheater had no happy homecoming against the side who gave him his break in professional football, seeing Martin Braithwaite’s opener deflect off his boot and over Ben Alnwick, then being out-stripped by Boro’s £15million man Britt Assombalonga for the decisive second.

Results were generally kind to Parkinson’s men, who remain just a point from 21st place, yet you fear for the Whites’ future in this division if they continue to play it this safe.

At 0-0, you could forgive Wanderers to looking to respect a point. After falling a goal behind, however, fans will be questioning whether their team did enough to get back on level terms before Boro finally killed the game off dead.

Without a shot on target at the Riverside in 90 minutes, the absence of terrace favourite Adam Le Fondre was again highlighted in glorious technicolour.

As we have said time and time again this season Wanderers let no-one down for effort, yet the bit of extra quality – or potentially tactical flexibility - needed to make a difference at grounds like this seems frustratingly absent.

If news of Garry Monk’s sacking at Middlesbrough came at an odd time, just hours after a 2-1 win at Sheffield Wednesday, then Tony Pulis’s appointment at 11.30am on Boxing Day really took the chicken parmo. The erstwhile West Brom boss watched from the stands and may soon reach for his long-time associate Gary Megson as he plots a path back towards the Premier League.

Wanderers had upset the odds against Cardiff and might have fancied their chances more had Monk remained in place, as tensions were high among the home fans after the expected automatic promotion push had failed to materialise to date.

The first half did little to cheer up the locals. Boro had a handful of decent chances but lacked any sense of urgency when they got near the penalty box.

Stewart Downing pulled strings but those in front of him – chiefly Britt Assombalonga and Patrick Bamford – were downright wasteful in the opening 45 minutes.

Parkinson would have expected to give up the lion’s share of possession, as he has on most away trips this season. Karl Henry and Darren Pratley sat tight in front of the back four and even the loss of Andy Taylor before the end of the half to injury did not look a significant blow.

Wanderers had their moments to score too. Gary Madine looped a header on to the roof of Darren Randoph’s net after a clever free kick from Karl Henry and Josh Vela had a shot blocked right in front of goal after some belligerent work from Ameobi on the right.

There must have been some sense of achievement heading into the dressing room at the break, yet the speed at which heads went down when Boro nudged into the lead four minutes after the restart must be a cause for concern.

Braithwaite already missed one good chance from the left side of the box, flashing his shot wide much to Alnwick’s relief. But the Bolton keeper was a bystander as the Dane – who cost Boro £9m in the summer – flashed another shot via Wheater’s instep which floated over his head and into the net.

Parkinson’s one change on the day had been to introduce Craig Noone on the right for Will Buckley but the former Cardiff man did little to guarantee his place for Saturday’s trip to Sheffield United. No sooner had the change been reversed from the bench, the home side added their second.

Not for the first time away from home this season a straight ball out of midfield caught Wanderers flat, and an isolated Wheater was turned inside out by Assombalonga, who finished with real quality into the far corner.

Wanderers still had 23 minutes to try and salvage something but were stunned into inactivity. Aaron Wilbraham was sent on from the bench in a like-for-like change with the tiring Madine but it has to be questioned whether Parkinson or his side really did enough to force their way back in.

Boro’s interim boss Craig Liddle effectively declared, looking ahead to his future festive fixtures, leaving the final third of the game a dead rubber.

The next two outings now take on added significance for Wanderers. First they must avoid their wait for a Championship away win topping the 1,000-day mark, and show that they can match one of last season’s League One rivals who – on the face of it – have a squad of comparable quality. Next they have to grind out another result at home and give their fans some scope for optimism as they go into 2018.

All the same old points about investment could be made here at the Riverside but sometimes you still have to wonder if Parkinson and his Wanderers are really helping themselves as much as they should?