Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate has the “it” quality as a manager. Not “it” in the genius sense like Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson. Southgate has it in the Raymond Domenech sense where he could strip naked, smear himself with his own fecal matter and reenact the Monty Python Silly Walks skit down the touchline yet still not be fired. Steve Gibson likes Southgate, believes in him. With the Boro on 27 points, and four points from safety, Gibson’s faith could be quite expensive.
Form: Dreadful does not describe Middlesbrough’s form. They have won only one of their last 18 matches in the Premier League, a shocking 2-0 win over Liverpool. During that stretch they dropped 44 points. Opponents shut them out in 11 of the 18 matches. They scored more than one goal once. Viewing their incompetence on paper, it’s really hard for a professional team to have played worse.
Schedule: Middlesbrough has a tough schedule, rife with top team ties and relegation six-pointers. They play Hull City, Fulham, Manchester United and Aston Villa at home. They travel to Bolton, Arsenal, Newcastle and West Ham. Fortunately, this may help. Middlesbrough play to the level of their competition. They have to wins since the end of October, but against Aston Villa and Liverpool. They have draws with Everton and Arsenal, and nearly took points from Manchester United in a 1-0 defeat.
Injuries: The Boro can’t blame their poor play on injuries. Didier Digard is out for the season. Chris Riggott may return from his knee injury sometime this month. The greater issue has been poor performance, punctuated by Aliadiere, Tuncay and £12m Alfonso Alves scoring just 11 goals between them in 72 combined appearances.
Prognosis: Middlesbrough has eight matches, to pick up four points and leap frog over two teams. There’s no doubt of Southgate’s ability to rouse the players for one match, but doing so week after week will likely be too much. If the club does not pick up at least six or seven points from their next three matches against Bolton, Hull City and Fulham, they are as good as relegated.