Fortunately, ‘Boro clinched the win against Sheffield Wednesday that confirmed Championship football will once again be on the agenda for next season. But hell, they left it close! If, like me, you spent most of Wednesday thinking that it would be typical if Luton won and we lost, then you obviously didn’t consider the rest of the many possible scenarios and so would be ultimately grateful for Leeds’ excellent win against Charlton that – regardless of every other result – would have kept us up anyway. And that’s completely disregarding what might happen at Wigan.
I have to admit, however, that my own feelings during that long and arduous day were concentrated more on a particular moment in the season that put us in this fragile position in the first place. Think back to the first Friday night of the season when, still pumped up by Jonathan Woodgate’s plans for a more resolute, more attacking and more adventurous style, we kicked off at newly promoted Luton. To be fair, Jonathan’s forecast looked to be going to plan and even after going behind an adventurous and attacking style saw us fight back to a 2-1 advantage. And with just seven minutes to go we were awarded a penalty that would most certainly have seen us take three points back to the Riverside. Sadly, Britt Assombalonga blasted the ball into the top of the stand behind the goal and – almost inevitably – Luton came back within a couple of minutes to equalise. I remember thinking on the way back home that I hoped losing the two extra points we should certainly have had wouldn’t come back to haunt us later in the season. Strangely enough, I thought at the time that if such a thing happened it would have been at the other end of the table because –like many of us – I thought we would have been more likely to be fighting for a return to the Premiership than trying to avoid joining Sunderland in Division 1.
But all that is fortunately now in the past and we can start looking forward to how next season is going to develop. It’s just a relief to know we’ll still be in the Championship, but the rest is – at the time of writing – anybody’s guess. Like all football clubs we face something of an uncertain future, but with a squad that seems to be getting smaller every day, and a financial situation that has been desperately hit with the Corona Virus outbreak, there is going to have to be some very clever recruitment during the next few months. That the squad was patently not good enough anyway has been obvious all season and while the fault for that cannot be laid at Jonathan Woodgate’s door with little or no money to spend, a dramatic change of the playing style and personnel is going to be required.
Since the ‘great escape’ took place under Neil Warnock’s management, I’m pretty certain he’ll be given the opportunity to undertake that massive task and to be fair it’s hard to think of a Manager who would be more suitable for the job. A truly fantastic record at this level indicates how well he knows the league and a recent history of managing teams to promotion from it suggests he also knows many ideal footballers who might just come because of him. There obviously won’t be much of a budget for him to work with, but the overall situation suggests there will be quite a number of out of contract players looking for a club. Whatever’s happened this season, let’s hope Middlesbrough will still be a big enough name to hopefully attract the right ones. Any possible purchasing power is going to have to come from sales and if the clubs reportedly looking at Britt Assombalonga come up with a decent offer then he must surely be one of the first out of the door. His goal scoring record at Middlesbrough hasn’t seemed to have put other clubs off, and he is just the type to go somewhere else and start banging in the goals but he’s never looked like doing that with us. It’s ironic that Neil Warnock’s main criticism of the squad has tended to concentrate on a lack of ‘proper’ defenders when our attack has been easily the most inept in the division with a paltry 47 goals from 46 games.
Perhaps the only good thing to come out of the season has been the emergence of very good young players like Aynsley Pears, Marcus Tavernier, Djed Spence, Hayden Coulson and – more recently – Anfernee Dijksteel. They could all be an integral part of a new-look squad next term. It would also be nice to think we could manage another loan deal for Patrick Roberts but his showing in short bursts with us has probably already attracted the attention of other clubs so that might be difficult.
It’s an unenviable task for Warnock or whoever may take his place but that’s what makes football so exciting. You simply never know what’s around the corner!
But now we’re safe, enjoy what’s left of the summer!