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Football League

Boro 'too young' admits Gibson

Chairman claims a lack of experience cost Teessiders in their battle to beat drop

The Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson has admitted the team lacked experience as they fought in vain for their Premier League life.

Manager Gareth Southgate was charged with the task of reducing the age profile of the squad and the wage bill when he succeeded Steve McClaren in the summer of 2006.

Southgate, who swapped the captain's armband for the manager's hotseat, has since moved on the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ugo Ehiogu, Ray Parlour, Abel Xavier and Gaizka Mendieta, while Mark Schwarzer, Mark Viduka and George Boateng have chosen to leave.

With transfer funds limited last summer, the Teessiders opted to rely heavily on their Academy graduates, and Gibson believes with hindsight, that may have been an error.

He said: "We were probably too young this year and we lacked experience. One of the first things Bryan Robson did when he joined us was bring in a leader in Nigel Pearson, and one of the first things Steve McClaren did when he joined the club was bring in Gareth Southgate.

"When we lost Nigel Pearson under Bryan Robson and we were relegated, we brought in Andy Townsend. We have perhaps missed that experience and the vacuum we perhaps had with older players leaving – and in making him manager, we lost Gareth from the changing room – we haven't replaced that.

"That's one of the things we have talked about and we think we need a solution to that. We need to bring in more experienced players. The age that we have gone this year, we will not do that again."

Southgate acknowledged the lack of experience with his squad all season, but was convinced that in players such as Stewart Downing, David Wheater and Matthew Bates, he had potential future leaders among the ranks. However, injuries to older heads Emanuel Pogatetz and Julio Arca robbed him of some of his key squad members at vital points in the campaign. Southgate and Gibson are currently assessing what needs to change at the club in preparation for life in the Championship, and there is certain to be an overhaul of the playing staff.

But no matter which players take the field on the first day of the new season on 8 August, Gibson is confident they will be up for a very different fight. He said: "We have learnt our lessons and we do need to toughen up, we need to be tougher. Gareth recognises that – and there weren't many tougher players than Gareth Southgate playing at centre-back for 57 England caps."

Gibson's comments came as he answered fans' questions on a BBC Tees phone-in, and he was doing his best to look forward rather than back. He said: "We can talk about the past forever, but what we have got to do is focus on the future. We have had some great times at Middlesbrough Football Club, and I don't want anyone to believe those times are in the past.

"We are going to seek to bring those good times back, we are going to seek to be successful. We have taken a knock, but it is not terminal. We will be back in the Premier League as soon as it is possible to do so, and we have plans for this football club."

Gibson defended the club's decision to smash its transfer record to land striker Afonso Alves. Boro paid Heerenveen £12.7m for the Brazilian in January last year, and after seeing him score six goals in six Premier League appearances as the 2007-08 season drew to a close, had high hopes for the new campaign. However, Alves managed only four league goals as Boro struck just 28 times during the season and dropped out of the top flight.

Gibson said: "He would be the first to admit that the season hasn't gone the way he would have hoped. It hasn't been through lack of effort, it hasn't been through lack of commitment to the club, it's just not happened for him.

"Every supporter I speak to sees something in Alves, that there is a talent in there, and it is whether we can get it out. We felt he could do it in the Premier League. He showed signs of that with his goals in the latter part of last season.

"It hasn't worked out for him. He has got himself into some great goalscoring opportunities, but he has only scored four goals. Now, I don't want to talk about individual players, but for any striker in the Premier League, four goals is not enough. Before that, he has scored 45 goals in 39 games for Heerenveen, and he got six in six for us last season.

"When we signed Alves, we had worked very hard on him. We had watched him play, but there is always a gamble in asking players to move here from the continent. If you look at every club in the Premier League, they will have a story to tell on players who haven't worked out."