A common strategy for managers taking a team up into the Premier League is to “give the lads who got us there half a season, if it doesn’t work, bring in new blood”. A parallel technique has largely been used over the past couple of seasons on descending into the Championship. Newcastle decided to bank on those who ushered the club down to usher them back up and this is a policy that appears largely to have succeeded. True, some particularly coveted jewels were offloaded in Owen and Martins, but the Magpies decided to gamble on an automatic return.
So has it been a few kilometres to the south. Stuart Downing’s injury proved insufficient to detract suitors and Tuncay finally exited, but Middlesbrough’s additional offloads were those who had become unwanted – that byword for financial excess, Alfonso Alves’ name must be seared across Gareth Southgate’s heart just as the word Calais was tattooed on that of Mary I of England.
A recent post on the reliably superb SmogBlog has summarized Middlesbrough’s February very well. The Teessiders may lie only a brace of points off the play offs but it’s been a dreadful season in all reality and no sane judge would pick them out as capable of a quick return. As early as an on loan stint at Wolves in 2005-6, one suspected that Jeremie Aliadiere was unlikely to make it and his has been one of the most protracted honeymoon periods for a former youth starlet one has seen – maybe, his formative years in the Arsenal academy and emergence with a British accent have saved him from the scrapheap, but Boro fans have long run out of patience. Similarly, Emmanuel Pogatetz, as rugged as a Tyrolean mountain pass in winter, looks like he will be on his way soon – Middlesbrough fans seem finally have understood what the rest of us have known for some time: that the bemasked one’s discipline makes him a liability.
It’s not been an auspicious season either for once £10 million rated David Wheater either – and Boro must cash in if his value drops too alarmingly, just as they did with Adam Johnson in the transfer window. Barry Robson’s two penalties in the win over QPR and the form of Willo Flood have provided green shoots, but Gordon Strachan, realist as he is, will see the remainder of the season as a chance to complete the rebuilding process, with Gary O’Neil retained as the kind of lynchpin a team can be constructed around.