Onside: Inquest into Mowbray’s Middlesbrough mess

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WHILE Sir Alex plans a nationwide retirement tour on an open-top bus, Mancini celebrated the one-year anniversary of breaking the United stronghold by getting the chop and Pools kick off their summer by looking for a new gaffer, an inquest has started at the Riverside.

Well, in truth the inquest started a long time ago, when, despite plucking a few results out of nowhere and miraculously giving hope to shell-shocked fans, who were treated/punished to two Boro teams for the price of one in one season, our “promotion cert” team crumbled – terribly.

You wouldn’t have had to pull on a pair of red-tinted spectacles to observe that we were the best team in the Championship before Christmas.

Equally, it’s by no-means overly-harsh to say we were the very worst team in the league once we had welcomed 2013 into our lives.

That, as ridiculous as it sounds even in the mental making-Hollywood-look-orthodox place that has become our home, the Championship, is the absolute truth.

We went from the best to the worst overnight.

We played Blackpool and Blackburn off the park to end December before the haunting new-year-possession let the year in on the Boro by releasing his annual Teesside curse.

When you open an inquest into a public humiliation and breakdown, which had us dreaming of Mogga flying us to the moon, to nervously holding our aching necks after spending the final weeks looking over our shoulders, where do you start?

Excuse the simplicity of such an observation, but the bare-faced facts are thus: we conceded too many goals, especially silly set-pieces, and didn’t hit the net anywhere near as many times as we needed to at the other end.

The stats are painful. Only Derby, Ipswich and basement battering-boys Bristol City (who took six points out of the Boro), scored more goals away from home. Only Huddersfield Town, who escaped demotion on the final day, conceded more.

Putting it into a context with other teams, the 38 goals we scored at home was a good return, although the 27 conceded was more than it should have been.

But the home form hasn’t been a problem on the whole. Despite some shockingly frustrating performances, Bristol City, Barnsley and the inability to break Peterborough down, springing immediately to mind, 13 wins on home turf was second in the league only to champions Cardiff.

Confidence crumbled worryingly quickly. The Championship prides itself on sapping life out of its helpless victims, and Boro weren’t the only team to go through a shocking run of form. What was most alarming in our case was the fact we were that impressive before Christmas.

McEachran strolled through his opening months in the league with sheer class imprinted on his every touch. Leadbitter was rock solid - and remained so for most of the campaign. Marauding George Friend was a revelation in a free-flowing side adopting a system which saw full-backs bombing on and midfielders having the confidence to pick out audacious and telling passes.

And then our season-killing virus/infection/disease - call it whatever you want - struck.

The terminal end to the painful season has already had its victims. Arca, unsurprisingly, gone, and joined by the ever-professional Big Mick, followed out of the door by Nicky Bailey and Andre Bikey. The Bailey decision, given that Mogga rarely used him for the last few months wasn’t surprising. Bikey had as many detractors as he had fans, but the boss appeared to rate him. He had a lot of time on the field but the strapping centre half was one to pay the price for the carnage that had unfolded.

This inquest isn’t going to be opened and closed in a day, week or even a month. Big decisions are still to be made.

Whether to keep McDonald on his bank-busting wage or to take our medicine and release him with a year left on his contract is undoubtedly the biggest.

Then there is the riddle of solving the curious case of Marvin Emnes.

But, after watching the play-offs with the now-annual ‘this should have been us syndrome’ setting in, we can take a step back and realise it could have been a lot worse.

Mis-management at the very top causes on the field-tragedies - just ask Wolves fans. In Gibson, we are all perched in the safest of hands.

And remarkably, despite finishing 16th - SIXTEENTH - there are positives ahead of next year.

Jason Steele established himself as the very best stopper in the league and we must try to keep hold.

George Friend proved a stunning bit of business and Rhys Williams started to look back to something like his old self at the heart of the back-line in the last few weeks of the season.

Muzzy Carayol danced and jinxed his way past defenders in the final games and will be a key asset next year if he’s fit and on song but we need more goals from midfield - and obviously from attack.

The rebuilding starts yet again.

Come August, players, management and fans alike have to try and put the horror of 2013 behind us.

The real test of whether the team has managed that will come when, and it happens to all teams, we have a blip.

VERDICT: Awfully painful terminal self-destruction in 2013. But we live to tell the tale with signs of life. Now to build and go again.