Tuesday 24 February ~
Middlesbrough are currently one point off the foot of the Premier League. A club who have been established in the top flight club for a decade, and reached a UEFA Cup final, are enduring their worst league season since they last went down in 1997-98. For several reasons, however, their downturn in fortunes has been met with a fairly muted response, both on Teesside, and elsewhere. It is difficult to be hugely critical of a relatively well run club, with a likeable, generous chairman and strong youth policy. Boro supporters have been critical of the club's PR in recent times, particularly around the introduction of a new club badge in 2007. Now the growing sense of dissatisfaction caused by the team's form has been further fuelled by a letter handed to fans before the game against Wigan last Saturday.
Signed by the club's safety officer, this letter concluded with the words: “I am receiving more and more complaints from our fans... about both the persistent standing and the constant noise coming from the back of this stand. Please stop, make as much noise as you like when we score, but this constant noise is driving some fans mad.” This, quite understandably, received an angry reaction from fans and many protested by turning their backs on the game. In the end they didn't miss much and their team are “Woefully weak and in danger!” according to the local paper.
The irony of the request for noise following a goal (but not at other times) is that in their last nine league games Middlesbrough have scored just once – it has been eight hours and 15 minutes since Boro fans last saw their side score in the league. Their last victory, courtesy of defensive errors by Aston Villa, was on Sunday November 9, a win that took them to eighth in the table. It seems unfortunate now but Gareth Southgate described this as his best result as Boro manager.
The 13 games since have seen a dramatic collapse in form, with the inability to score goals an obvious and fundamental problem. In the Fly Me To The Moon fanzine, Boro fans have called for unity among the support and fretted over the home crowd's apparent resignation to the club's fate. This could be the only option to open Middlesbrough supporters, however – Steve Gibson is unlikely to sack Southgate before the end of the season and unless Afonso Alves manages to convert some of his numerous chances in the 12 games remaining Boro seem destined for the Championship. The club would prefer that the fans remained quiet.