Saturday’s 4-0 FA Trophy defeat at the hands of Evo-Stik North high-flyers Darlington showed the huge gulf between Boro and their rivals.
The clash between the legacies of the two former football league clubs turned into something of a damp squib due to Darlington just being far too good.
Boro were outmuscled and outplayed by the best team to visit Queensgate so far this season.
The Boro fans turned out in force for the battle, but left with furrowed brows.
Boro now have just a couple of days to shake off this defeat and prepare themselves for the bread and butter of league action.
Boss Rudy Funk made just the one change to his side, with Steve Burton replacing the injured Matty Plummer.
In recent weeks the gel had set between Plummer and Ben Middleton, a bond that Boro lacked in the opening stages.
With just four minutes on the clock David Dowson was played on-side by the returning Burton. He rolled into the path of Liam Hatch, who placed the ball beyond a static Jason White to give Darlington the lead.
The contrast was evident between the two back-lines, as Darlington’s exuded confidence, forcing the Boro attackers to toil for every scrap they were given.
Gary Bradshaw almost gobbled up one of the few breadcrumbs on 10 minutes, wriggling free 25 yards from goal and lifting a delightful effort over the keeper but beyond the bar.
Led by the commanding Hatch and the spritely Dowson, Darlington created the lion’s share of the opportunities.
And Middleton put his body on the line to deny the vistors a second when Dowson was just about to pull the trigger.
Middleton got his timing wrong minutes later, taking Dowson down in the box. The referee said no to the shouts for a penalty and to rub salt in the Darlington wounds Leon Scott was booked for leading the protests.
Boro demonstrated their generous streak soon after, with Burton and Steve Ridley mixing things up. Dowson stole in, but White saved well with his foot.
Having finished the half on top, Darlington took full advantage of Boro’s sluggish start to the second period with just seconds played.
Stephen Thompson was the beneficiary, drilling a smart shot across White and into the net.
White kept Boro’s fading hopes alive in the 50th minute, getting a strong hand to Adam Mitchell’s shot after the nippy winger had found a few acres of space.
The Boro keeper was thanking his lucky stars when Hatch headed straight into his hands after Ridley had been robbed.
Former Barnet, Gateshead and Grimsby man Hatch then stunned the crowd of 715 with the miss of the season. Dowson’s effort bounced onto the post and into Hatch’s path. The striker stooped but managed to head over from a yard.
Darlington weren’t done though, with the Evo-Stik North leaders planting their foot firmly on the gas and leaving Boro in their wake.
The introduction of attacking regulars Amar Purewal and Graeme Armstrong led to an immediate third.
Armstrong was sent streaking clear of the defence, White kept out his effort, but could do nothing when Purewal gleefully ran the ball into an open goal.
White earned more adulation with five minutes left when he somehow managed to divert Mitchell’s drive to safety.
He was brilliantly beaten in the last few minutes though, Armstrong expertly converting a ball from the right with the neatest of flicks.
A powerful Darlington deserved nothing more, leaving with the heads held high, while Boro sculked away to focus on league action.