Gareth Southgate leads his young Middlesbrough team to St James' Park tomorrow night with the knowledge that defeat by Newcastle United will almost seal Boro's relegation after 11 consecutive seasons in the Premier League. Boro have won two away games all season and have not scored in their last three matches, but Southgate is undaunted.
"It's nights where people will grow up and show what they're made of," he said of an atmosphere he expects to be frenzied.
"A crowd of that size can work for you but it can also be an enormous burden. When I was playing away I always thought 'bring it on' because you are walking into a coliseum. You're surrounded by the crowd. You want to embrace that challenge. It should galvanise you."
This is a first managerial encounter between Southgate and Alan Shearer. The two men have known each other nearly 20 years and were England colleagues. Shearer has recalled that his Blackburn Rovers debut was at Crystal Palace in 1992. Southgate played in that 3-3 draw and scored; Shearer scored two.
Southgate, however, remembered an earlier meeting when Shearer was still with Southampton.
"He's not right to say it was the first time we met," Southgate said of 1992. "That would have been Palace v Southampton in the South East Counties Div 2. They won about 7-1 and he got about five.
"He wouldn't have known me but I would have known him because he was in the first-team squad with Southampton. They had a great youth team – the Wallace brothers, Matt Le Tissier, Frannie Benali."
The degree of risk tomorrow is obvious for both Southgate and Shearer, and the Boro manager of nearly three seasons has requested some patience when it comes to judging both.
"It's inevitable that people will question Alan but you can't judge someone on seven or eight games," he said. "It won't be the players he wants long-term and it won't be the club running as he wants it yet.
"The natural assumption when you are at a club for any length of time is that development should always be upwards, but we have a very different scenario in terms of the size and experience of the squad and the finance of the squad.
"Our wage bill was probably middle of the table when I took the job, it's now bottom five. In terms of transfer investment we were net nil last summer. You can't overlook the impact that has.
"There will be lessons I've learned this year that will be with me forever. I certainly believe I'm a better manager now than when I got the job. But obviously we finished 12th then and we're 19th now and people will say: 'Come on, how have you developed?' But there is a link between wages and results. Tony [Adams] had it at Portsmouth when he had to sell players. Banks are calling it in. The majority of football is based on a false economy."Reuse content