Middlesbrough could have beaten Derby County 10-0 and it would have made no difference to the fate of their manager, Gareth Southgate, who was sacked two hours later to pave way for the anticipated arrival of Gordon Strachan.
Southgate was unaware of it, as were the players, who were behind him, but he was a dead man walking on Tuesday night as he spoke about the 2-0 win which followed three successive home defeats. Instead, he learned his fate at a midnight meeting with Gibson, who decided some time before that Southgate had to go, whatever the outcome of the game.
Gibson had previously shown immense faith in Southgate, who twice led Middlesbrough to mid-table positions in the Premier League before last season's relegation. But falling attendances and the fear that they could miss out on promotion prompted the surprise move by Gibson, who had made Southgate's job more difficult by overseeing the sale of a number of their best players in the past 18 months. Gibson explained yesterday: "When I sat down and considered our start to the season, I felt that the league table was actually more favourable than some of our performances.
"Then I looked at the important games against the teams immediately around us, and took those results into account. In general the results and the performances have not been to the level I would have hoped for. Before Tuesday night, our five home games had brought in seven points. That will not get us promoted – and promotion is the only objective for the season.
"As difficult a decision as it was to make, the decision was made before last night's match. One good result wasn't going to change that decision. We already had a strategy for Gareth's replacement. The timing of his sacking was determined a little by the implementation of that strategy."
That strategy is almost certain to involve Strachan, 52. Gibson, it is believed, has already had talks with the former Scottish international, who left Celtic at the end of last season and was his first choice as Southgate's replacement.Reuse content