The Harry Redknapp soap opera continued at the weekend, but while the merry taunting of Portsmouth provided a temporary tonic for Saints fans, the late surrender of their side's two-goal lead brought any short-term enthusiasm crashing back to reality.
Perhaps it was just as well, because if Saturday's game showed anything it was that his new side have a long way to go before they can be assured of Premiership football next season. All too often Southampton gifted too much time in midfield and with more urgency the visitors could have found themselves heading north with all three points. The problems though, do not come from a lack of talent but a stalling confidence that the new manager has a reputation for rectifying.
"Once we conceded, the atmosphere changed and tension crept in, that's what happens when you're struggling to win," concluded Redknapp. Despite the despondency, there is no problem with the attacking end. The little and large combination of Peter Crouch and Kevin Phillips discovered a chemistry that caused havoc all afternoon.
Redknapp was happy with the front two and has an embarrassment of riches up front with James Beattie recovering from injury. Redknapp said it would be a "disaster" to let last season's top scorer go. "We need him to stay here. Certainly through January to the end of the season," he said. There was also talk of who would come in and Redknapp indicated that his football marriage with Jim Smith would continue.
If Smith does arrive he'll find the impressive Antti Niemi and rejuvenated Graeme Le Saux. The latter gave Tony McMahon a masterclass in the art of by-line reaching and assisted both goals. Le Saux's England days are long gone, but he can only have impressed the watching Sven Goran Eriksson, who was there to observe another left-footer, Boro's Stuart Downing. Downing epitomises the never-say-die attitude McClaren has installed. Of Middlesbrough's 29 Premier League goals this year only seven have come in the first half.
"We got stronger as the game went on, another three minutes and we would have probably won it," McClaren said.
Goals: Phillips (45) 1-0; Crouch (62) 2-0; Higginbotham og (89) 2-1; Downing (90) 2-2.
Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi; Nilsson, Lundekvam, Jakobsson, Higginbotham; Fernandes (Telfer, 45), Delap, Anders Svensson, Le Saux; Phillips, Crouch. Substitutes not used: Smith (gk), Dodd, Griffit, Ormerod.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; McMahon (Nemeth, 60), Cooper, Southgate, Reiziger; Parlour (Job, 83), Boateng, Zenden, Downing; Viduka, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Doriva, Davies.
Referee: N Barry (N Lincolnshire).
Booked: Southampton: Delap; Middlesbrough: Boateng.
Man of the match: Phillips.
Attendance: 29,018.Reuse content