Middlesbrough relegation worries deepen as Steve Gibson keeps coffers at bay

10 January 2009 06:57
Gareth Southgate may have been happy his pleas for supporters to rally behind Stewart Downing was heeded, Middlesbrough's manager should be concerned by the way his team were labelled under-achievers by their own paymasters.

Southgate is naturally feeling anxious about his team's slide down the table because he has failed to inspire Boro to a League victory since early November but the view from the Riverside boardroom is that the lack of investment which Downing has blamed for his transfer request is not the root cause for the club's demise.

The England winger has grown frustrated at the lack of investment by chairman Steve Gibson since he signed a new five-year deal last February but the finger of blame is now being pointed at Southgate rather than the owner and any lack of munificence judging by chief executive Keith Lamb's programme notes.

"Gareth has assembled a squad that's far better than its current league placing suggests," Lamb wrote. "Indeed, it's one of the most attractive and exciting squads of my two decades as chief executive.

"Gareth has his backroom staff are intent on everyone remaining focused and together in applying themselves to ensure we achieve the results that will move us up the league to a position that accurately reflects the squad's quality."

Gibson might be famously patient but he is not afraid to sack managers - just ask Lennie Lawrence or Bryan Robson - but Southgate will be hoping that he resists pushing the panic button with relegation worries deepening.

This was a Jekyll and Hyde performance that showed why Downing became so desperate to leave his hometown club. Thanks to the England international's outstanding endeavours it seemed as though a long overdue victory would be forthcoming.

Such was Downing's influence, if this was what happened when Downing's future was thrown into doubt then Southgate should hope his charge submits a transfer request every week.

He put any own misgivings he had about his own career prospects to one side to produce a personal performance full of industry, vigour and flair.

His rousing display came after he received a rapturous reception from fellow Teessiders at the end of a week when, of course, his transfer request was rejected by the powers-that-be at the Riverside and his hopes of joining Tottenham were dashed for now at least.

The mercurial figure was deployed by Southgate just behind central striker Afonso Alves's and they combined to maximum effect in the 45th minute following a half that only yielded long-distance efforts for the home side despite their dominance.

The breakthrough arrived following a swift interchange of passes between Downing and Alves that culminated in the Brazilian thumping a first-time past Marton Fulop.

The way Downing celebrated fists-clenched with supporters proved that whatever has been going on behind the scenes there is no way he doesn't care about his local club but throwing his shirt into the crowd at the end.

"He's a class player and showed why it's so important we hang on to him because he was excellent," Southgate said.

That incisive move was as good as it got for Boro and Sunderland slowly but surely seized the initiative. That was thanks partly to the loss through injury of Boro midfielders, the tearful Josh Walker and then Didier Digard and the introduction of Sunderland substitutes Andy Reid and David Healey who created the chance for Kenwyne Jones slot home an 82nd minute equaliser.

Resurgent Sunderland would have celebrated victory but for an excellent goal-line clearance by Adam Johnson who repelled Carlos Edwards' glancing header from Reid's corner before Djibril Cisse headed just over before being denied by Tony McMahon's last-ditch challenge.

"The longer it stayed 1-0 the more nervous Boro became but that's a fact of football," Sunderland manager Ricky Sbragia said. "I was quite content with a point and I'd have been over the moon with a victory."

"The final whistle could not have arrived early enough for Southgate who said: "It's been an unbelievably long week so I'm glad we've come out of it with something because that was crucial.

"It's been difficult to keep everyone focused and considering that we have given a performance with quite a bit of character. Not enough but the result is probably about fair. Everything that could be thrown at us is being thrown at us."

Source: Telegraph