Time To Panic On Teesside


It’s been coming for a while. But the defeat at the hands of relegation rivals West Brom has put Middlesbrough firmly in the dogfight for Premiership survival. Without a league win since they beat Aston Villa on 9th November and a home win since October, finger nails are being well and truly bitten on Teesside. Has anyone looked closely at Gareth Southgate’s hands lately?


Boro started the season well enough but results stopped going their way, the anticipated flow of goals from a potentially lethal but so far misfiring front line never materialised, and the rumoured unrest of certain senior players which undoubtedly found credence with those who were watching the performances week in-week out have all added up to one hell of a foul-tasting mixture to cure the post-Xmas blues.


By the time this goes live, Boro could well have dropped into the bottom 3. Whether they ever come out of it again is very much down to the actions of certain individuals. Gareth Southgate, Steve Gibson, Stewart Downing and Afonso Alves will all have major influence on what level of football is played at the Riverside during the 2009/10 campaign. The degree to which each plays their part is very much down to the desire and belief that their input will produce a positive output.


Afonso Alves is in grave danger of becoming the second Massimo Macarone - a big money, bald-headed striker with an equally big reputation and a similarly large bald spot on the scoring chart. Bought for £12Ma year ago, Alves has found fitness but not form. The Brazilian goal machine that reaped havoc amongst Dutch defences has so far only shown the briefest of glimpses of the finishing that tempted Boro to spend so much money.


Stewart Downing became a changed man when he signed a new contract half way through last season. Even the detractors whose voices were also heard recently supporting a view that anyone willing to spend anywhere near £15M should have their hands ripped off admitted that Downing produced a virtual one-man show in ensuring that Boro were visiting Old Trafford and Anfield this season instead of Carrow Road and Deepdale. After his recent attempt to depart to pastures new was thwarted, another cameo from the England winger may be required if his head and heart are up to it.


Gareth Southgate’s appointment was much maligned and in some cases disputed. The past couple of season have seen Middlesbrough move away from the dour performances seen on many occasions under Steve McClaren and the former Aston Villa man has seen his stock rise and praise lauded on him from the good and the great. However, there comes a time when style and entertaining football must be balanced with picking up points. Recent form is probably the worst since Boro’s former captain took the reigns. The annual Xmas slump has lasted well into the New Year and if it continues beyond Valentines Day then there may not be an awful lot of love or goodwill left for the first man in the clubs history to lift a trophy.


The last of the four is undoubtedly the most important. Steve Gibson, the chairman almost every football fan wants to have, is known for being loyal to his managers. In the past, this loyalty has possibly been stretched out a little too far, Bryan Robson being a perfect example. It was Gibson’s decision to appoint Southgate when McClaren departed for England. It was Gibson who gave Southgate and his predecessors the money to buy payers like Fabrizio Ravanelli, Juninho, Massimo Macarone and Afonso Alves. It was Gibson who played a large part in convincing Downing to sign his contract and to accept the recent denial of a transfer request. It will now fall to Gibson to be judge and juror on the performances of the aforementioned three individuals.


Alves will earn his fate during the new four months. Failure to find the net other than on a few occasions may lead to his off-loading during the summer. Whether Boro survive or not, Downing may well depart in the summer for a large wad of cash. His ready-made replacement, Adam Johnson, waits in the wings. Southgate’s future is somewhat more undeterminable. Like so many people at the moment, he may have years, months, weeks or days left in the job. I would be very surprised if it were either of the latter. As I said before, Gibson is loyal and remains confident that the current incumbent is the right man for the job and is the right man to take Middlesbrough Football Club forward. Even if Boro go down, he may believe that ’Gate is the man to take the club back up.


Times are tough at present. They will probably continue to be tough for a while yet. Come the summer, a lot of football fans will be looking at what league their team will be playing in before committing to buying a season ticket.


As Teesside isn’t the most prosperous place on the country, spending £300-£500 on a season ticket is a big decision. A lot of people will be praying that Steve Gibson’s decision making makes theirs a little easier.


Tags: Middlesbrough, Boro, Gareth Southgate, Afonso Alves, Massimo Macarone, Stewart Downing, Steve McClaren, Adam Johnson


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