Derby County manager Gary Rowett felt the scoreline was "a little bit harsh" on his side as their play-off hopes suffered a further setback.
The Rams were beaten at home by fellow promotion chasers Middlesbrough thanks to goals from Muhamed Besic and Britt Assombalonga either side of half-time.
David Nugent pulled one back in second-half stoppage time but there was no time remaining to stage a comeback.
Derby have now won just two out of their last 13 games.
The run of form has seen them fall out of the play-off places after being second in January.
Last week, Derby were well beaten by then bottom side Burton Albion.
Despite suffering another defeat, Rowett believed his side showed more endeavour than he saw against Burton.
Rowett seeing the positives
He said: "The crowd got behind the team really well and the side showed a lot more effort, which should be a given.
"I thought there were a few more positives today."
Rowett opted for a new look back five and recalled Bradley Johnson to the starting eleven.
"It gave us a bit more flexibility, we passed the ball much better. We had more possession and we had more control of the game," he said.
"I thought we had some good moments when we put balls into the box but we needed to get more people into the box and gamble a bit more.
"The two goals were very poor and on the balance of play to be two goals down, in my opinion, is a little bit harsh," Rowett added.
Matej Vydra, who has 19 league goals this term, was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Season earlier this week.
But Derby's key man was quiet after it looked like he picked up a knock early on and was substituted in the second half.
Rowett said: "Vydra had a bit of physicality early in the game and it put him off the game. We need him to be a bit stronger for us than that."
Adama Traore unplayable
Just as Derby's stand out player had an off day, Middlesbrough's Adama Traore showed exactly why he is one of the best Championship players.
Derby put two defenders on him in Craig Forsyth and Marcus Olsson, but they could not prevent him from setting up both Boro's goals.
Rowett was full of praise for Traore at full-time.
"At times you can work out any tactical plan against him but he's a lot quicker than any of your players and so strong.
"When he's on it, he's virtually unplayable," he said.
Derby have been pushing for promotion for the past five seasons and are establishing a reputation for falling off the pace right at the last.
The same storyline appears to be unfolding under Rowett unless the Rams can pull of a shock in their remaining three games.
Carson still aiming for top six
Goalkeeper Scott Carson said he is aware of the trend but is refusing to give up hope of getting back into the play-off places.
He said: "It's frustrating. It's something that has been happening too often."
The experienced keeper continued by saying: "We don't want to be remembered for not quite making it and people saying we've bottled it. We've got three cup finals left and if we could still cement that spot in the play-offs anything could happen."