SHELL-SHOCKED Tony Mowbray blamed his shambolic defence after Middlesbrough let slip a commanding lead.
Basement battlers Boro looked set to seal the victory as Leroy Lita put them 3-1 up on 53 minutes. But, as the promotion-chasing Swans piled forward in a high-tempo and insistent final assault, the home defence crumbled.
They should have been home and dry, but in a chaotic finish at the Riverside the Teessiders imploded at the back. Boro gifted Swansea a lifeline with a cheaply conceded penalty just before the hour mark and that sparked a crisis of faith.
They wobbled and panicked and, as jitters and mistakes spread alarmingly through the team, a combination of a goalkeeper’s fumble and a defensive bungle allowed the visitors to level late on.
Boro were then denied even the consolation of a point as they backed off nervously deep in stoppage time to give Swansea the chance to snatch victory.
“There was some very poor defending out there and we only have ourselves to blame,” said Mowbray.
“You should never lose grip of a comfortable two-goal lead like that but we did and it was all self-inflicted.
“When you analyse the game there weren’t really any huge problems. We had a game plan and to a large extent it worked. I can’t remember too many games where I have been involved that things fell apart like that. It was very disappointing.”
Had Boro held on to win they would have carved out some breathing space in the Championship table and set themselves up for a tough few weeks in which they play leaders QPR and promotion-chasing Nottingham Forest at the Riverside and go to Millwall next week.
Instead, after two defeats on the bounce, they are left just five points off the drop spots and, while three of the four teams below them lost, suddenly the injury-ravaged side are looking vulnerable.
“Now we are looking over our shoulders again,” said Mowbray .
It was an entertaining game, and Boro got the opener on eight minutes. Lita picked out Marvin Emnes in the box and the Dutchman – who spent three months on loan at Swansea earlier this season – turned sharply and drilled a sizzling low shot inside the near post.
Emnes’ only other Boro league goal also came against Swansea, in a 3-0 away win early last season.
Swansea levelled on 14 minutes as Boro defender Seb Hines casually dribbled a ball out of the box only to be robbed 30 yards out.
Nathan Dyer raced forward and exchanged passes with first Angel Rangel, then Luke Moore, to get into the box to fire home a superb equaliser.
Boro were back in the lead on 34 minutes when stand-in skipper Barry Robson curled in a free-kick from the left and defender Jonathan Grounds powered home a header.
Boro made it three on 53 minutes as Robson quickly knocked back in a half-cleared corner he had taken for Leroy Lita to powerfully head home a goal that really should have sealed the game.
But spirited Swansea changed personnel and shape and piled forward looking to salvage something. They clawed one back on 59 minutes as Julio Arca brought down Joe Allen in the box, and when the referee pointed to the spot Scott Sinclair buried it.
They levelled on 68 minutes after some chaotic defending from Boro. First, goalkeeper Jason Steele came out to collect a routine cross but fumbled under pressure from Luke Moore.
Then, as the loose ball looped towards the far post, the back-pedalling Hines got tangled with team-mate Tony McMahon and could only head weakly straight to the unmarked Ashley Williams eight yards out, and he rifled in.
Boro were rocking and Steele saved from Gower but they broke out and had a chance to seal it, but Emnes blazed wide two minutes from time.
But Swansea snatched it four minutes into stoppage time when Dyer weaved to the edge of the box before rolling inside for Craig Beattie to lash home the killer finish.