Steve Agnew could get the chance to stake his claim for the Middlesbrough job as chairman Steve Gibson plots the way forward after the departure of head coach Aitor Karanka.
The Spaniard’s former assistant has been placed in temporary charge of team affairs while Gibson assesses his options, of which one is to install a proven firefighter on a short-term basis.
Boro announced Karanka had left the club yesterday morning having reached the point of no return. The Teessiders are 19th in the Premier League, without a win since December, and three points shy of safety with just 11 games remaining.
It is hardly the ideal position from which to attempt to lure a replacement to the Riverside Stadium and Gibson may seek to make an interim appointment – just as derby rivals Sunderland did successfully with Dick Advocaat two seasons ago – in a bid to stave off the drop.
It is understood that tentative enquiries have been made about the availability of hugely experienced Dutchman Guus Hiddink, although the noises coming from his camp were less than encouraging.
Agnew has been placed in charge of team affairs for the time being, ahead of Sunday’s clash with Manchester United, and sources on Teesside have indicated he could yet be asked to perform a similar role to Craig Shakespeare at Leicester.
Gibson, who has special advisor Peter Kenyon’s contacts to draw upon, has turned to experience in the past, drafting in former England boss Terry Venables to work alongside Bryan Robson in December 2000, although the circumstances this time around are very different.
Karanka’s tenure eventually drew to a close five days after he responded to a question about the absence of Stewart Downing and Patrick Bamford from the matchday squad to face Manchester City by saying he needed “18 fighters”, hinting they did not currently fall into that category.
It was another incendiary remark – he criticised both the fans and the club’s January recruitment drive in recent months – and with Gibson having funded both Downing’s return and Bamford’s permanent capture at great expense, it did not go down particularly well.
Karanka’s comments were also symptomatic of a greater malaise, with his stubborn refusal to accept that his Plan A was no longer working.
The lack of a workable Plan B contributed to a run of 10 league games without a win and only three goals scored.
The club looked to be heading in only one direction and having waited seven years to return to the top flight after suffering relegation in 2009, Gibson decided enough was enough.
Karanka, whose exit was announced in a brief club statement, arrived on Teesside in November 2013 with a ringing endorsement from Jose Mourinho, with whom he had worked at Real Madrid, to inherit a club in danger of slipping into League One under Tony Mowbray.
He stopped the rot and, after suffering the heartache of a play-off final defeat by Norwich, guided Boro back into the top flight as runners-up to Burnley last season.
Karanka said: “I’d like to thank Middlesbrough for a wonderful opportunity and the players, staff and all the people at the club who I have worked with. I’d also like to thank the fans for their support.
“This club will always hold a special place for me and I wish everyone connected with Middlesbrough Football Club the very best for the future.”
The forthcoming international break will give Gibson time to assess the alternatives, but it seems likely that whoever does get the job – Nigel Pearson, Steve McClaren and Alan Pardew feature in the bookmakers’ early list of candidates – will have to work within the head-coach model.