FA Cup quarter-final Sunday, this weekend last year, and on Teesside there is an explosion of hope. The day before, Barnsley had beaten Chelsea at Oakwell and Portsmouth had knocked out Manchester United at Old Trafford, and the one other remaining Premier League side in the competition, Middlesbrough, are home to Cardiff City. Suddenly a path to silverware has presented itself. But, live on television, Boro flop. One down after nine minutes, they are two down in 23. There is no fightback. Cardiff meet Barnsley in the semi-final and Gareth Southgate has his first real taste as a manager of supporter backlash.
"That could have been a very damaging result for us, emotions were running wild," Southgate said of the reaction locally. "It was a strange weekend because the day before Manchester United went out to Portsmouth and Chelsea went out at Barnsley, so all of a sudden we went from rank outsiders to second favourites, and I don't think we dealt with that well.
"But we learned to recover from that and go on for the rest of the season. Quarter-finals are funny things, I've won a few away from home, quite strangely."
One of those strange ones, Southgate recalled, was at Goodison Park nine years ago when he was the Aston Villa captain on the way to the last final at the old Wembley. Benito Carbone scored the Villa winner in a 2-1 victory before being sent off.
Southgate said he hoped that would be "an omen" when he takes Boro to Everton this afternoon for another quarter- final, Boro's fourth in as many seasons. Only one of the previous three have been won and, given Middlesbrough's place in the Premier League – they are second-bottom, two points off safety with a goal difference worsened by the 4-0 defeat at Tottenham on Wednesday night – the Cup could be seen as an unwelcome diversion.
But Southgate is emphasising the opposite. He sees the stimulus that a Cup run can give to a small squad. "I'm still confident we can stay up," he said. "The size of our squad's probably been exposed, the inexperience has been exposed."
The 38-year-old wore a satisfied smile as Boro overcame Liverpool at the Riverside eight days ago, but there have been other times lately when Southgate has looked uneasy with the role he moved into at short notice after Steve McClaren left for England.
"My view hasn't changed since I stopped playing," he said. "There are parts of the profession, the business side, that I don't like. But my love for football hasn't changed. There are elements of every job, when you're doing them every day, that are a grind, and you have to get through them.
"For clubs like ours, which have had more defeats than victories in the last couple of years, you're constantly having to raise people all the time. That's where it's good to have positive people around you. The coaches here are used to picking themselves up off the canvas and going again."
The Cup strangeness that Southgate spoke of extends to Everton under David Moyes. The Scot, for whom Southgate is full of admiration, joined Everton as manager four days after Boro had knocked out Walter Smith's team, in the 2002 FA Cup quarter-final at the Riverside, a match in which Southgate played.
In Moyes' first Cup game with Everton the following season they lost 2-1 at Shrewsbury, when Nigel Jemson's brace was the story of the day. Last season they were again beaten in the third round, at home to Oldham. This is the first time that they got this far under Moyes and, having accounted for Liverpool and Villa to date, there will be determination not to slip up against Boro.
It represents an obvious opportunity for Moyes and Everton to bring a first trophy back to Goodison since Joe Royle did so with the FA Cup 14 years ago.
One defeat in their past 16 games – and that at Old Trafford – has lifted expectation that this is Everton's silverware breakthrough. They are favourites to do so but, one year on, Southgate could warn Evertonians about the perils of getting ahead of themselves.Reuse content