Angry - But No Time For A Mob
WAS only half joking when I suggested the Gazette should have a "angry mob special" with free pitch-fork and burning torch for every reader.
In the wake of the shocking on-the-field implosion there was bound to be a passionate backlash from furious fans left shell-shocked by the debacle. Naturally as tempers boiled over there have been renewed demands for Gareth Southgate's head and servers crashed as the message boards went into hyperbolic overload.
But put down the crude effigy and the rocks. Extinguish the fuse on the Molotov cocktail. Now is not the time to storm the Riverside Stadium.
Distraught supporters are steaming and rightly so. Brittle Boro capitulated with alarming ease after leaking two killer goals in 12 first half minutes then were given an embarrassing runaround by the only team to finish below them in the Premier League last year. That has got to hurt.
Boro disintegrated in their first real psychological test. They lacked shape, spirit, passion, pride and any semblance of coherent team structure as they descended into disarray and crashed to a damaging 5-0 defeat that dented those early euphoric hopes that promotion would be a formality. And that is hard to take too.
Having rashly built our hopes up with a string of polished performances it was a real size eleven square in the teeth. Let's be blunt: Boro were rubbish. It was probably the worst home display, and after the big build up certainly the biggest disappointment, since the catastrophic Cardiff City quarter-final cup crash.
So the furious reaction from fans as we crawl from the wreckage is understandable. And predictable. The stakes this season are so high that the impact of any set-back will be magnified ten fold, more so as the finishing line looms.
But predictable too because, as discussed at length on here before, there are a large and dedicated anti-Southgate faction who are perpetually simmering just below the trigger point for spontaneous combustion. For them the Baggies battering set off a chain reaction that ended with an explosion of emotions suppressed since the start of the season by Boro's bright start and has them screaming in triumphant vindication.
We knew from before the big kick-off that each and every defeat would be a political stick to beat him with and would recruit new layers of dissidents. They have been handed a Godsend of an early branch and will not waste the chance to wield it.
But back-dated vitriol bubbling to the surface violently now shouldn't cloud the reality of the table nor be allowed to de-rail what is still very much a realistic promotion push.
Internecine squabbling right now over sacking the manager would be a ludicrous and damaging distraction in what is the most important league campaign in decades.
If Boro don't get back up this season then the finances will really bite, the few remaining crown jewels will be sold off and we face the prospect of being locked at this level for the foreseeable future. Or even slip back further, who knows.
It would be strategically stupid to change managers now - and politically disruptive and unrealistic to press for it. If Steve Gibson was going to axe Southgate he would have done it last January when there was still hope or in May when relegation was confirmed. He didn't. He stuck by his man and has given the strongest possible signals that that position will not change so long as Boro in with a shout in the promotion race.
Gibson is a full fledged stubborn Teessider. He wasn't swayed by last term' record run of 13 awayday defeats nor by the powerless slow motion slide towards the drop so he is not going to panic now away one defeat when the team are third in the table.
And that is the reality. Yes, Boro were monstered and it was embarrassing - but it was just one defeat. We don't get disqualified from the league.
Boro slipped back to third but are still well placed to push for a swift return to the big time.
The team is still the one that ground out a 3-1 win over Ipswich - a team bossed by a man who many of the antis would prefer because he has a scary scowl and shouts at his players till they cry. And it is the same team who last week had the fans purring as they came from behind to rip open Sheffield Wednesday.
In fact it isn't the same team. It is that team plus two new current Irish internationals added in defence and up front in Sean St Ledger and caleb Folan, players yet to bed in but who can only add to the strength of the squad.
Be honest, at the start of the season if we had been offered 16 points from the first eight games we would have snatched it.
Two points a game is a fantastic average and 14 goals from that is a good return.
The team - and Southgate - are probably ahead of the expectations of all bar the most wild-eyed ra-ra fringe... and certainly ahead of the dark warnings of a relegation spot and Leeds/Charltonesque plunge issued by the doom-mongers.
We were clinically taken apart by West Brom - but maybe that is no surprise. While Boro have been ruthlessly filleted of Premier League first team regulars from last term Albion have kept most of theirs.
The Championship so far has demonstrated that last season's relegated trio are clearly a cut above. In an ordinary division their superior quality, fitness and technique has shone through in games. And while Boro may struggle against evenly matched Albion and Newcastle that is only two teams - there are 21 others to play who have nowhere near the resources we do and that is where the battle will be won or lost.
Bar the Albion game, a stuttering opener against Sheffield United and a 20 minute spell at Bristol City Boro have generally played well, pressing high up the pitch at an impressive tempo, closing quickly, passing crisply and defending well. There are some good signs there that the team, while still lacking experience, bodies and real teeth up front, has developed some steel and spirit.
So, despite the short term sting of Saturday, Boro's trend is still forward and upwards. We are far from out of it. Ask the bookies. Even after the Albion hammering Southgate's side are still strong third favourites.
And no matter how painful the defeat was, it is far from a knock-out blow. In Boro's last two campaigns in this tier they have suffered real thumpings and still gone on to secure promotion comfortably.
In 1997/98 - the Merson year when Boro were the biggest spenders in the division by far - they were crushed 4-0 at eventual champions Forest then four days later were thrashed 5-0 at QPR but bounced back with a 6-0 mauling of Swindon. And in 1994-95, Robbo's first fairytale season Boro were shot down 5-1 at Luton but bounced back.
It is the bouncing back that is important. Boro need to respond in style at Coventry of Saturday and win to put the season back on track. prop up morale and head off revolt.
If they don't win the next home game against Leicester will be a powder keg.
Not ideal when many in the crowd will be carrying torches.
***The above is a remix of the Big Picture column as part of my enhanced service for those living outside Steve Gibson's five mile magic circle of Greater Gazetteshire.
"I STILL Love Boro, me...." Steve Gibson speaks exclusively in the Gazette today about Gareth Southgate's future, the club's finances, why he won't be selling the crown jewels and how he still has a burning ambition for success.
You can read part one here.
And here's part two.