Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson was today launching a search for a new manager after reluctantly relieving Gareth Southgate of his duties.
Gibson wielded the axe just hours after the Teessiders had ended a run of three successive home defeats with a 2-0 victory over Derby which left them a point off the top of the Coca-Cola Championship table.
He admitted the decision had been the toughest of his reign at the Riverside Stadium to date.
In a statement released through the club's official website, www.mfc.co.uk, he said: "This has been the most difficult decision I have had to make in all the time I have been in football.
"Gareth has given Middlesbrough Football Club magnificent service as a skipper and, in very difficult circumstances, as manager.
"I appointed Gareth in a situation that was greatly unfavourable to him.
"He is a good man and has all the qualities and integrity that we wanted in a manager.
"However, the time is right for change and that change has had to be made.
"Gareth will always be welcome at our football club. English football needs people of his stature and we feel certain that this experience will serve him well.
"Gareth deserves another opportunity once he has had the chance to rest and refresh himself."
Speculation had been rife for days that Southgate could be heading for the exit door with sections of the club's support in open revolt.
Indeed, a crowd of just 17,459 turned out to see Adam Johnson shoot down the Rams with a double either side of half-time to apparently ease the pressure on his manager.
Southgate seemed to have no inkling of what was to happen as he conducted his post-match press conference as usual.
But at around midnight, the club confirmed his departure in a brief statement.
It read: "Middlesbrough FC have tonight announced that manager Gareth Southgate has been relieved of his position with immediate effect.
"Football consultant Alan Smith will also be leaving the club as part of the change."
Southgate was appointed by Gibson as Steve McClaren's successor during the summer of 2006, going into the hotseat just weeks after captaining the club in their UEFA Cup final defeat to Sevilla.
Boro had to fight for special dispensation from the Barclays Premier League to hand the then 35-year-old the job because he did not have the necessary UEFA Pro Licence.
The former England international kept the club in the top flight with 12th- and 13th-place finishes respectively in his first two seasons at the helm, but was unable to prevent them from slipping into the Championship at the end of the last campaign as he found himself working within a tight budget.Reuse content