Middlesbrough announced yesterday that they have sold out their allocation for Sunday's FA Cup quarter-final against Cardiff City at the Riverside as the club's chairman, Steve Gibson, showered praise on his young manager, Gareth Southgate. In his second season in management, and having lost both main strikers, Yakubu and Mark Viduka last summer, Southgate "has done terrifically for us," Gibson said. "I can't emphasise enough how ugly the job was that I gave him."
Southgate, then 35, succeeded Steve McClaren when he left for England in June 2006. Boro had just reached the Uefa Cup final against Seville and lost the FA Cup semi-final to West Ham, but Gibson said that it had been a period of upheaval at the club.
"It was a time when the club needed great change on the playing staff," Gibson said of the squad Southgate inherited. "The season before we reached the Uefa Cup final, we finished 14th in the Premier League with an ageing squad. We had to have a heavy turnover of personnel because otherwise we wouldn't have survived. You need a clear head, a clear plan and a strong hand at the helm at times like that and Gareth brought all three.
"Look at how much the team has changed since then. We've got four new strikers this season and Mido is the only one with any real experience of the Premier League, so it's going to take time for them to gel." Southgate joked after the goalless draw at Sheffield United in the fifth round that he had "spent the season being second favourite to be next manager sacked", and there was a spell from September to November when Boro did not win in 10 matches. But Gibson said Southgate "never panicked". Nor did his chairman.
Though Boro remain just four points above relegation, they ended that run by beating Arsenal, still the only club in the League to have done so. It was a victory that provoked appreciation from the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, for Southgate's work. "You enjoy hearing that kind of endorsement, but we knew that anyway," Gibson said.
"Gareth is such a good man and such a decent man that you want him to succeed and flourish, but there's far more to him as a manager than that. Nothing's certain in football, but we have enough talentto survive and, with two years' experience behind Gareth and with a bit more support in the transfer market this close season, we could have something very special going on here."