What has gone wrong at Boro?
After his appointment as Middlesbrough manager late last October, Gordon Strachan repeatedly stressed he did not need the job. Instead, he said he took it because he wanted it. I wonder if he feels the same way now?
The results of a survey published in Middlesbrough's Evening Gazette last week delivered a damning verdict on his first year in charge.
Participants were asked to rate Strachan's performance as either poor, satisfactory, good or excellent across a range of categories, from the signings he has made to the entertainment value of his Championship team.
He was rated poor by the majority of people in all of them, although 2.7% of those polled rated his relationship with the media as "excellent". The fact that this is a notoriously thorny area for Strachan perhaps says it all about his current travails.
Oh, and a whopping 78.1% said Strachan should be sacked.
Boro legend Bernie Slaven then put the boot in by claiming chairman Steve Gibson "will have the gun in the drawer - he may not have loaded the bullets yet but he will if he needs to".
Strachan's policy of buying Scottish players has not yet worked. Photo: Getty Images
It is not surprising that Strachan is coming in for some serious stick. Boro have won just 13 of the 45 games since he succeeded Gareth Southgate. The club started the season as favourites to win promotion from the Championship after a busy summer in the transfer market but are 18th in the table after 10 games.
They have yet to win away, have a negative goal difference and, perhaps most alarmingly, crowds at the Riverside are falling sharply. More than 21,000 witnessed the opening-day defeat against Ipswich but fewer than 14,000 bothered to attend the last home match, a 2-2 draw with Portsmouth. To place that attendance in perspective, crowds dipped below the 17,000-mark for a league fixture only once at the Riverside last season.
"For a lot of Middlesbrough fans, the steep fall from the heights of reaching the Uefa Cup final in 2006 has been hard to take," said BBC Tees presenter Alastair Brownlee.
It could get worse. Defeat by Leeds on Saturday could see Boro slip into the bottom three. This is not the way it was meant to be.
The Teesside club were one point off the top of the Championship when Gareth Southgate was dismissed on 21 October, 2009. But results tailed off after Strachan's appointment and the new boss quickly concluded that he had inherited a side with a soft underbelly. The Scot bemoaned his side's habit of leaking late goals and talked about a lack of fitness, fight and, particularly, leaders on the pitch.
Strachan sought to add some steel to his squad by signing Barry Robson, Willo Flood, Chris Killen and Stephen McManus from former club Celtic in January, as well as striker Lee Miller from Aberdeen.
Nicky Bailey (Charlton), Matt Kilgallon (Sunderland) and Mickael Tavares (Hamburg) arrived in the summer but the Scottish theme continued with midfielder Kevin Thomson and striker Kris Boyd arriving from Rangers and Andrew Halliday moving from Livingston.
"Scotland is a great breeding ground," argued Strachan, who has now signed eight players from north of the border. "And when you have played with the Old Firm, that is character testing. You are not allowed to lose one game. That is the kind of attitude I want in the dressing room here."
Boyd, who arrived on a free transfer, was arguably the Championship's stand-out signing of the summer. He is the all-time highest scorer in the Scottish Premier League and, echoing Strachan's theme, said on his arrival: "If you have played for Celtic or Rangers, you develop a real mental toughness."
Moments of celebration have been thin on the ground for Boyd at Boro. Photo: Getty Images
So far, Strachan's tactic of relying on Scottish steel to form the backbone of a promotion-winning team has not worked, with Boyd's woes indicative of Boro's struggles. The striker has scored only twice in 12 appearances and, since moving to England, has lost his place in the Scotland squad. He is at a club that has produced quality wingers such as Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson but, with those two gone, Boyd seems to be suffering from a dearth of quality balls from wide areas.
"Boyd does not get the same number of chances at a struggling club like Boro as he did at a successful side like Rangers," added Brownlee. "The rebuilt side has not clicked but hopefully if they do gel they will have enough quality to move up the table."
I asked 606 users what they thought had gone wrong. Nicht-Andy wrote: "All this may be a sad indictment of how far Scottish football has slumped." I suspect quite a lot of people feel like him and, if true, it suggests that Strachan is guilty of a major misjudgment on what it takes to succeed in the Championship."
Former Boro skipper Didier Digard certainly thinks so. The midfielder has not started a match since Strachan took over and is now on a season-long loan at French club Nice. "Gordon Strachan blamed the foreigners for poor results but what about now?" said Digard in Monday's Northern Echo.
Others have argued that Boro will live to regret Strachan's decision to turn his back on an academy system that regularly produced first-team players. Strachan has felt the need to overhaul his side with players brought in to the club. In his defence, four former trainees were in the team that started against Pompey, with another two on the bench.
Plenty of 606 users reckon Boro's troubles began before Strachan's arrival. I was surprised by the number who pointed to the decision of Gibson to appoint Southgate as successor to Steve McClaren following the 2006 Uefa Cup final.
Parmopleasemate said: "It's funny really, I remember sitting on the grass outside the stadium in Eindhoven [after the final] thinking Gibson is going to mess this all up. The Southgate appointment is when it started to go wrong."
Southgate was a respected defender but he had no managerial experience. Some saw him as the cheap option at a time when the club that was looking to reduce its debts. Perhaps, as parmopleasemate went on to argue, Gibson should have sacked Southgate after their 3-0 defeat at West Brom in January 2009. A new manager would have then had 16 games to preserve Boro's Premier League status
Others suggested the club has suffered because Gibson shows too much loyalty to the managers he has employed, particularly Bryan Robson, while some pointed to the role of chief executive Keith Lamb and the big fees spent on mediocre players such as Afonso Alves.
Focusing on the current season, supporters highlighted a lack of creativity in midfield, players played out of position, the use of a zonal marking system and an injury list that currently includes influential players such as Flood, Thomson and Rhys Williams.
Strachan himself recently spoke of his frustration. "I've tried everything," he said after the 3-1 defeat against Derby on 29 September. "We're doing loads of things but what we try isn't working."
Almost a year after Strachan arrived claiming that there was nothing cosmic about Championship football, he is still working out what it takes to launch Boro back towards the Premier League.
MONDAY, 18 OCTOBER UPDATE AT 1700 BST
Gordon Strachan leaves his job as Middlesbrough manager after less than a year in charge.