24 October 2009 ~ In Friday's Daily Mirror, effusive columnist Robbie Savage explained his hatred for disposing of domestic waste and described a particularly bizarre moment in his week. The former was due to complications involving bin bags being damaged by garden birds. The latter was on the Derby team bus on the way back from Middlesbrough. According to Savage: "One of the lads got on his laptop and shouted that Gareth Southgate had just been sacked. It was weird – we'd barely left the ground when the news came through." Many saw Southgate's dismissal as a poor or oddly timed decision. Middlesbrough fans, however, have been more muted.
The day after the 2-0 victory over Savage's Derby, Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson admitted that the decision to sack Southgate had been taken some days earlier: "I made the decision two or three weeks ago, but you have to act in the best interests of your football club... One result against Derby County at home wasn't going to change any of that." In yesterday's Daily Telegraph Jim White attacked Gibson's lack of "long or even medium-term thinking" and attempted a rousing defence of Southgate. On the subject of dwindling crowds at the Riverside – the Derby game attracted another record-low attendance for the stadium – White pondered on what else was Southgate supposed to do, pointing out the financial problems at the club and "necessary consequences of relegation". Referring to the deep-set problems at both the north-east club and in national government, White went on to equate the usefulness of replacing Southgate at Middlesbrough with the Labour Party changing its leader.
But among Middlesbrough fans there is no such anger or confusion. While many have sympathy and affection for the man who lifted the club's first trophy in 2004, the list of fan concerns about Southgate as a manager is varied and long. These include the inability to dominate games despite one of the division's strongest squads, no sense of tactical nous and an apparent sense of resigned pessimism towards the former manager. One fan site provides a detailed list of frustrations before concluding: "He just wasn’t cut out for the job." Sacking a manager immediately after a home win is an unusual step but the depth of fan concern shows that the situation at Boro is not quite the "absurdist merry-go-round of managerial hiring and firing " as described in the Telegraph.
Having appointed inexperienced managers such as Bryan Robson, Steve McClaren and Southgate in the past it now seems that Steve Gibson will appoint Gordon Strachan. But Southgate's former assistant Colin Cooper is in charge for today's game at Preston – the first league game between the clubs in 35 years. Preston are only one point behind Middlesbrough and won 2-1 away to Sheffield Wednesday in midweek. However, despite the home defeats to Watford, Leicester and the 5-0 loss to West Brom that hastened Southgate's departure at the Riverside, Middlesbrough have yet failed to score in an away game this season. Steve Gibson's professed concerns about Middlesbrough's poor results against teams around them may well be addressed again today.