Gordon Strachan's first game in charge of Celtic could not have veered further off the rails, a 5-0 embarrassment by the unheralded Czech side Artmedia that, in the goldfish bowl of Glasgow football, raised immediate doubts over his tenure. He failed to win either of his debut games when at Coventry or Southampton, his other managerial stopovers, which cannot inspire those of a superstitious nature at this most supernatural time of year.
But failing to win home games against Plymouth, Middlesbrough's opponents for Strachan's latest bow this afternoon, will not deliver the return to the Premier League which the Scot has been hired to bring about. In a Championship that sees the top 11 sides covered by a couple of wins and promises to produce a frantically tight scramble for promotion, victories over the likes of Paul Sturrock's strugglers are a necessity.
Middlesbrough's form at the Riverside had much to do with Gareth Southgate's demise. They have lost three times in seven home Championship games this season, a poorer record than Ipswich, who prop up the table. Southgate's last game, the 2-0 win over Derby, ended a run of three goalless defeats, notably a 5-0 rubbishing by West Bromwich Albion.
Home support has waned on the back of these results. Less than 17,500 witnessed Southgate's last hurrah, a 6,000 fall on the opening day attendance against Sheffield United and 10,000 fewer than saw the last home game in the Premier League in May. It is time, believes Strachan, slipping into Halloween character, to give the Boro's fans something to scream about, but in a good way.
"We've got to work together," said Strachan. "You can't expect the fans to jump up and down, scream and shout and enjoy themselves if you're not giving them something to scream and shout about, because they'll look very silly. We appreciate how the fans can help us, but we've got to help them and give them something to enjoy."
Strachan yesterday made his first signing, bringing striker Marcus Bent on a two-month loan from Birmingham.