Farage Clegg
Nigel Farage trounced Nick Clegg in post-debate pollsReuters

The Liberal Democrats wanted their man Nick Clegg to go in hard against Ukip's Nigel Farage in the second of their two, hour-long debates about Europe, and he clearly took the message to heart. Perhaps a bit too much, as it turned out.

While Farage was as robust, challenging and confrontational as before, albeit a bit less angry and sweaty, the deputy prime minister appeared to have swallowed an entire bottle of aggression pills.

He was shouty, presumably thinking that would come across as passionate; personal, presumably believing it showed emotion, and even abusive, presumably mistaking it for being challenging. And it failed dramatically.

Two polls immediately after the event gave it to Farage with an increased lead, 68% and 69% compared to Clegg's 27% and 31%. Last week's first debate saw 57% backing Farage and 36% Clegg.

This week, even a third of Lib-Dems believed Farage had won it while half of pro-Europeans gave the match to the Ukip leader.

The pro-EU camp will be wondering whether these debates were such a good idea after all. And even Clegg, as he left the BBC studio, appeared to accept he had failed in his mission when he talked about the long campaign that was needed to correct Ukip's message.

The session saw Farage repeating some of the same lines he had deployed in the first clash on issues like trade, immigration, British sovereignty and so on.

Clegg attempted to match the tone by denouncing Farage's "fantasies" over non-existent plans for a Euro army, navy and air force and his "made up statistics" over the number of laws coming from Brussels.

He branded him a conspiracy theorist who would next be saying there was no moon landing, Obama wasn't American and that Elvis was still alive and who wanted Britain to become "Billy no mates".

And he had a specially pre-briefed attack on Farage's professed admiration for the way Russian President Vladimir Putin had played the Syria and Ukraine "games".

And, inevitably, he had another old Ukip election poster, this one showing a native American in full head dress with the slogan "he ignored immigration, now he lives on a reservation".

Farage insisted he had never seen that one, and denounced it. But he was unrepentant on Putin and his role in Syria and Ukraine, pointing out Clegg had gone to war on Libya which was now a mess. And he won audience applause for it.

He ended up bluntly accusing Clegg of "wilfully lying", warning that if the EU did not end there could be violent uprisings and urging voters to "come and join the people's army" to bring down the establishment, which sounded a bit like an uprising of his own.

At the end of it all that big Farage grin was wider than ever. And this time there was no gap between what the commentators and the viewers thought. Farage had won it.

And that will spark a grim post-mortem as the pro European camp counts the cost of Clegg's high-risk strategy of giving the small party and its leader such a massive platform which he exploited to the full.

Clegg will probably be wondering whether he should even have got up that morning.