Gareth Southgate's self-effacing frankness has won him plenty of admirers but his ready admission that Middlesbrough's slump in form may test even Steve Gibson's redoubtable patience could come back to haunt him. In 14 years at the helm, the Boro chairman has appointed only four managers and has yet to sack one of them. In a climate where the threat of relegation strikes fear into the heart of most boardrooms, however, Gibson might find that loyalty is an indulgence even he can no longer afford.
Without a win in seven matches, Southgate's team remain out of the bottom three only on goal difference, with a trip to Old Trafford on Monday hardly an obvious opportunity to put things right. "I'm sure he [Gibson] has a breaking point somewhere," Southgate said on Christmas Eve.
He will hope that those words do not translate into an invitation to act after fans voiced their unhappiness with yesterday's toothless showing once Tim Cahill's goal had secured the points for Everton. Yet he vowed to put "every ounce of my energy" into reviving Boro's season and demanded the same from his players. "There is no way I am ducking this challenge," Southgate said. "We all have two choices in this situation – either walk away or roll your sleeves up and tackle the problem head on. I will give every ounce of my energy to turn this around and the next few weeks will show whether the players we have are the right type to do the same."
Everton managed to win without a recognised striker on the field because of their injury crisis. By contrast, Middlesbrough used four, including Southgate's £12m club-record signing, Afonso Alves, yet rarely tested Tim Howard. Southgate left Alves on the bench after the Brazilian's paltry return of only three goals this season and felt obliged to take off both Tuncay Sanli and the anonymous Jérémie Aliadière. Mido too posed little threat. Everton showed just the measure of character Southgate needs. Up to sixth, their record of seven away wins is bettered only by Chelsea, and no one embodied their spirit more than debutant Dan Gosling, the 18-year-old Moyes signed for a down payment of £1m from Plymouth a year ago.
It took a brave save at his feet by Ross Turnbull late in the game to keep him off the scoresheet. "Young Dan was terrific and he could have had a couple of goals," Moyes said. "But I was pleased with everybody. We have no strikers but everybody mucks in – that's our way. Cahill and Fellaini had to be up front at times and in the middle of the park at others and they were unbelievable." The goal that kept Everton in the hunt for a Uefa Cup place came six minutes into the second half when Cahill followed up his own header, saved by Turnbull, to force the ball over the line at the second attempt as Julio Arca tried in vain to block.
Goal: Cahill (51) 0-1.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Turnbull; McMahon, Riggott, Pogatetz, Taylor; Aliadière (Johnson, 70), O'Neil (Emnes, 85), Arca, Downing; Sanli (Alves, 54), Mido. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Huth, Wheater, Walker.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Howard; Hibbert, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines; Neville, Arteta; Gosling, Fellaini, Pienaar; Cahill. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Van der Meyde, Rodwell, Jutkiewicz, Anichebe, Kissock, Wallace.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Middlesbrough Arca, Pogatetz, Johnson, Taylor, McMahon; Everton Fellaini.
Man of the match: Gosling.
Attendance: 30,253.Reuse content