Connect with us


A missed opportunity: Reviewing Middlesbrough’s relegation woes

Martyn Cooke



When the final whistle sounded at Stamford Bridge on Monday evening the reaction of the two sets of players on the field could not have been more contrasting.

Whilst Antonio Conte and his Chelsea squad celebrated safe in the knowledge that the Premier League title had been all but secured, Middlesbrough’s players sank to the floor or shuffled down the tunnel with their heads down and shoulders slumped.

Goals from Diego Costa, Marcus Alonso and Nemanja Matic had put the final nails into Boro’s top-flight coffin and confirmed their relegation to The Championship.

Hamstrung by caution and a lack of ambition

There is no shame in a newly promoted team suffering relegation, but there is a definitive feeling that Middlesbrough have failed to make a significant contribution to the Premier League this season. They have come and gone without incident or achievement, leaving the top-flight quietly through the rear stage exit without any fuss or fight.

This season has been a missed opportunity for the club. After spending seven years in The Championship rebuilding and striving to earn their chance to compete with the elite of English football you cannot help but feel that they have fluffed their lines and blown their shot at the big time.

Throughout the campaign Middlesbrough have appeared imbalanced and hamstrung by a cautious approach and, arguably, negative attitude. The team were blunt, lacked creativity or inventiveness and certainly lacked the willingness to take their destiny by the scruff of the neck and play on the front foot. They may have the best defensive record in the bottom half of the table but they have found the back of the net just 26 times in their 36 league games.

In short, Boro simply did not attack their great opportunity.

Much of the blame will be directed towards Aitor Karanka. The Spaniard did a remarkable job lifting the club from the lower echelons of The Championship and guiding them to promotion but was left ruthlessly exposed in the top-flight by his lack of attacking ambition.

In Alvaro Negredo he had a proven goal scorer whilst the creative talents of players such as Adama Traore and Gaston Ramirez were primed to provide the ammunition. However, Karanka was cautious and his approach appeared to have sucked all of the creativity, enthusiasm and imagination out of the Middlesbrough squad by the time he departed in mid-March.

His temporary replacement, Steve Agnew, never looked like he possessed the experience or knowledge to turn around the clubs fortunes.

Embed from Getty Images

A missed opportunity

In truth, Middlesbrough’s relegation has been a long, draw-out process. By the turn of the year the trajectory of the club was only heading in one direction and at no point have they looked capable of pulling themselves away from trouble.

It all feels a little underwhelming and predictable.

No one would have expected Boro to have travelled to Stamford Bridge and beat the champions-elect in their own back yard but the poor level of their performance suggested that the players had all but given up hope. Chelsea oozed class and they could easily have scored four or five goals.

Middlesbrough supporters will feel rightly aggrieved that their club has not made the most of their opportunity in the Premier League – they never really “had a go”. After waiting seven years for their return to the top flight they suffered immediate relegation due to a cautious approach and lack of ambition. The challenge is now to try and navigate an immediate return.

Middlesbrough have truly missed their big opportunity and supporters will be hoping that they do not need to wait another seven years before they have their next crack at the top flight.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Mark Fletcher (Mark Fletcher)

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Aston Villa

Exclusive: Rudy Gestede – Tony Pulis’ preferred target man, Aston Villa woes and injury recovery

The Middlesbrough striker gave a candid interview as he looks to recover from his long-term injury.



Rudy Gestede
Photo: Getty Images

In the 2014/15 season, Blackburn Rovers classic big-man little-man strike duo of Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes tore apart Championship defences with both players scoring 20+ league goals each as the Lancashire outfit pursued promotion to the top flight.

After Rovers missed out on a play-off place it was inevitable that the Gestede-Rhodes partnership would be broken up as bigger clubs, with deeper pockets, came calling.

Rhodes received most of the plaudits during their time together at Ewood Park, so it was with some surprise that Gestede got the call up to the Premier League first, signing for Aston Villa as a replacement for the departing Christian Benteke.

Rhodes would have to wait another season to make it to the big league with Middlesbrough, while Gestede exited the club with an impressive record of 33 goals in 66 games.

The target man made a roaring start to life at Villa, scoring on his debut to give the Midlands outfit a 1-0 win over Bournemouth.

However, that was to be a rare high point in his time in the West Midlands.

Villa went on a six-game losing streak and Tim Sherwood, the man who brought Gestede to the club, lost his job. His replacement, Remi Garde, made it known fairly quickly that Gestede did not fit the style of football that he intended to play.

“My dream has always been to play in the Premier League,” Gestede told The Boot Room, in an exclusive interview.

“At Aston Villa I started quite well, scoring four goals in 10 games. But then, after Tim Sherwood was sacked, Remi Garde came in and told me I wouldn’t be playing because he doesn’t use a target man.

“I didn’t play for a while, coming on for just five or ten minutes. It’s hard to find your rhythm when that is the case and it was disappointing.”

Following Villa’s relegation to the Championship, the club invested heavily in an attempt to return to the top flight, with big money splashed out on proven Championship goalscorers, Ross McCormack and Jonathan Kodjia.

Despite his record at this level, both Roberto De Matteo and his successor at Villa Park, Steve Bruce, overlooked Gestede in favour of the new signings.

So when he was offered another bite at Premier League football with Middlesbrough, where he replaced his old partner in crime Rhodes, he understandably jumped at the chance.

However, it proved to be a difficult time for Gestede.

Middlesbrough had started the season well but a run of poor results found them battling relegation and manager Aitor Karanka was quick to publically criticise the club hierarchy for failing to land his preferred transfer targets, compatriots Bojan Krkic and Jesé.

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Subsequently, Gestede found himself in a similar situation to the one he left at Villa, with Karanka, and his eventual replacement Steve Agnew, both preferring to operate with Alvaro Negredo on his own up front.

“Again, I was playing just a few minutes here and there. It is hard as a striker when you don’t get at least a few games in a row. You don’t get used to the rhythm and you take a while to get up to the speed of the competition, especially for a player of my size.  That was a frustrating period as I didn’t get the chance to show what I feel I am capable of.”

In the summer, after relegation back to the Championship, Garry Monk was appointed as the third Boro boss during the six months since Gestede had signed.

Monk immediately broke the club’s transfer record by paying Nottingham Forest a reported £15 million for powerful forward Britt Assombalonga, before making the Congo international his go-to striker.

Gestede’s time under Monk was again limited to – in the main – cameo’s from the bench, usually when Boro were chasing a game.

“Under Garry Monk my playing time was limited. When you start getting starts and scoring goals you want to keep going. But that is part of being a player and you don’t have the time to sit and complain about what is happening. You have to prepare yourself for what will be the next fight.”

(Photo credit should read GEOFF CADDICK/AFP/Getty Images)

After a frustrating first half to the Championship campaign, Monk was dismissed, largely due to Boro’s defensive frailties and poor record against promotion rivals, which threatened to remove them from the play-off picture.

For a club that usually prides itself on giving their managers time to embed their philosophy, during his short spell at Boro, Gestede has played under a total of four different managers.

He has had few chances to experience run of games playing in his preferred position and feels that the Boro faithful haven’t seen the best from him, as a result.

“Since 2015, when I started at Aston Villa, I have had 10 managers. It does make things hard, as they look to give you varying amounts of playing time and in a number of different roles. You have to adapt. Sometimes they ask you to change the way you play and it doesn’t suit you very well.”  

To some surprise experienced Premier League survival specialist Tony Pulis opted to replace Monk at the Riverside.

Pulis is infamous for his direct football which represented a big departure from the open attacking style of Monk and the patient possession-based play of Karanka.

Pulis’ disciplinarian nature and style of play were imposed on the Boro squad immediately.

“He has more experience than any previous managers. He has his idea and you know he is going to stick with it. He wants us to set-up the way he likes to play. He is also a real leader. He is the man in charge and you feel that around the club. If you do not do what he says you know you are going to be out of the squad.”

Players who did not fit the Pulis mould were quickly jettisoned.

The attacking full-back Cyrus Christie, one of Boro’s best performers in the first half of the season, was sold to Fulham and replaced with the physically imposing Ryan Shotton.

Danish international attacking midfielder Martin Braithwaite was sent to Bordeaux on loan.

Pulis had a habit of playing a physically imposing target man at his previous clubs so the smart money was on Gestede being a shoe-in for first-team football and this soon proved to be the case.

“We know he likes to put players with height in the squad, but I didn’t know if I would be playing over Britt or Patrick. During the first few weeks in January, he started to rotate players to see who would fit best with the way he likes to play. After that, I started to get a run of games”

Pulis developed a formula of playing that on paper suited a striker with Gestede’s attributes.

Full-backs Ryan Shotton and George Friend would launch long throws up the line or into the opposition box.

The pace of Adama Traore, a player who has flourished under Pulis, was exploited to get up the pitch quickly and put early balls into the box.

The centre-backs and goalkeeper were encouraged to go long to Gestede early, with Boro attempting to play off the knockdowns.

This style of football suited Gestede’s attributes more than any other manager he had played under at Boro.

“You have to play with your strengths. I will not try to beat ten people with the ball, because that’s not what I’m good at. I leave that to others, the likes of Adama.

“My game is to hold the ball up for my teammates while being in the box as often as possible to score goals. I need to be there, but they need to feed me as well.

“If you were to start playing me down the channels, that wouldn’t be using my strengths. Everyone has a responsibility to the team and the target man role suits me well. “

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

The Pulis philosophy took time to bed in at Boro. Results were mixed and some portions of the Riverside crowd were unhappy with the style of football.

Gestede bore the brunt of some criticism due to the perception of him being a Pulis pick.

This was not helped by the manager dropping and publically criticising top scorer and fan favourite Britt Assombalonga.

After a slow start back in the first-team Gestede was able to answer some of those critics by bagging a brace against Hull.

Unfortunately, however, he also picked up an injury during that game, which he later discovered was a fractured ankle.

This injury cruelly ended his season just as he was finally getting going at the club.

“When you realise you are going to be out of the team it is hard to take, but you cannot stay in this mindset for long otherwise it is going to be more difficult to come back. You have to have the right mental attitude in order to come back as quickly as you can.”

Gestede could be forgiven for thinking that his future may lie elsewhere given how much tactical omissions and injuries have restricted his playing time at Boro.

But the striker has stated his intention to regain fitness and force his way back into the team next season. If Pulis remains in charge, it is likely that we will see Rudy leading the line again for Boro.

“In the summer we will review everything that is going on. In football, anything can happen, but I do not plan to leave. I just want to be ready for the squad. I will have a chat with the owner and if he is happy for me to stay then I will be very pleased. But football is full of surprises and you just never know.”

Whilst starting the long road back to recovery Gestede has uploaded regular updates of his rehabilitation on his YouTube channel titled #DAILYREHAB.

Each vlog offers an intimate look at his journey back to fitness and includes in-depth input from the Rockcliffe Park medical staff and occasional cameos from his team-mates.

In this time of heavy media management and arm’s length communications amongst professional footballer’s Gestede’s candid approach has been well received by Boro fans.

The vlog has shed light on the difficult and lonely experiences of an injured footballer whilst also showing the hard work that is put in by the medical staff and an injured individual in order to return to competition.

Gestede has found that the positive messages from the fans have also helped him:

“I wanted to motivate people. When I started rehab I wanted to show people that you have to work hard and that you have to believe in yourself if you want to come back stronger.

“It has been nice connecting with the fans. It is important as they are there every weekend supporting us. They are the same as us, we are both people. As footballers, we just have the luck to do what we love every day. We are fortunate that football is watched by so many people.

“It is important to use our ‘fame’, even though I do not like this word, to spread a positive attitude and way of doing things. There are too many bad things said about footballers because of the media. Now we have the chance to use social media to make it right.”

The football world recently mourned the passing of former England international Ray Wilkins, who died of a cardiac arrest at the age of just 61.

Gestede was fortunate enough to work with Ray who coached him at Aston Villa and he looks back on their time spent together fondly.

“I didn’t know Ray before I signed for Villa, but I got to know him quite quickly as we were in the same hotel together before I found a house in the area.

He was such a kind person and an absolute gentleman, always so friendly to my wife and kids. He always carried a positive attitude and he had an amazing knowledge of football.

I really enjoyed my time at Villa with Ray and I am very sad to lose such a great person, as he was.”  

So often in tragic circumstances such as these, we are reminded that life is short.

Gestede may well be holding that thought in his head as inspiration as he puts his all into bouncing back from injury.

All Boro fans will be hoping to see him back in a red shirt next season terrorising defences. Perhaps even Premier League defences.

Continue Reading


Martin Braithwaite finally scores, but Middlesbrough won’t get £7m for the Dane

The Dane has struggled to find his best form on loan at Bordeaux.



In the summer Garry Monk decided to improve the striking options at Middlesbrough. He spent big on Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher, but before that snapped up Danish international Martin Braithwaite from French side Toulouse.

It was a costly deal. According to a report from Sky Sports, Boro spent £9 million to sign the player.

But things didn’t pan out the way Braithwaite would have liked. The 26-year-old scored six goals for Boro but Monk was soon on his way and the Dane found himself out of favour under the new manager Tony Pulis.

(Photo credit should read NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP/Getty Images)

With that in mind, he was sent out on loan back to France in the winter. The 26-year-old forward joined Bordeaux on loan until the end of the season in order to play first-team football ahead of the World Cup in Russia.

This weekend saw him score in Ligue 1. Bordeaux defeated Montpellier 3-1 away from home, with Braithwaite starting the scoring in the ninth minute.

But this was his first goal for the French side. Braithwaite finally ended his drought with the French side, scoring after nine previous appearances for the club.

(Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

His lack of goals since moving to France has certainly justified Middlesbrough’s decision to let him move on in the winter.

Boro, who are still chasing the Championship play-off places, have not missed out on the Dane. In the summer, according to the Daily Mail, the French side have the option to but Braithwaite for a fee of £7 million. But given his struggles since making the move, it would be a shock to see that fee being spent by the Ligue 1 side.

Middlesbrough. May have to try and find another buyer or give him another chance to shine at the Riverside.

Continue Reading


Middlesbrough made a mistake by appointing Tony Pulis

Tony Pulis has experienced a disappointing start to life at the Riverside Stadium.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Middlesbrough are at risk of missing out on the play-offs after a disappointing away loss to Sheffield United this week.

The defeat means that Tony Pulis’ side have taken only five points from their last five fixtures.

At this stage of the season, momentum is a huge factor and the Teesside club have lost theirs.

Meanwhile, Millwall have won nine of their last 11 matches and haven’t lost in the Championship since the first day of the year.

This season was all about promotion for Middlesbrough and their summer recruitment highlighted that.

The relegated club spent just over £50 million, according to, and started the season as the favourites to win the Championship.

It is a thankless task to return at the first attempt and only five clubs have managed it during the past five seasons, with only two of those finishing in the automatic promotion places.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Although Middlesbrough have been competing in the top half for the majority of the season, they haven’t stood out as one of the better teams in the division.

They are currently 23 points behind league leaders Wolves and that is a testament to the challenges posed by the division.

Tony Pulis was appointed in December and it was an appointment made with the view of becoming an established Premier League club as he has never been relegated as a manager.

However, he has only won promotion from the second tier once and that came ten years ago.

As years past, managers become pigeonholed as specialists at certain jobs and his spell at Middlesbrough suggests that the Welshman is better suited to fire-fighting at the bottom of the top-flight rather than challenging for promotion to it.

That is in contrast to managerial peers Neil Warnock and Steve Bruce.

Neither have managed to have Pulis’ success in the Premier League, but they have both become renowned for thriving in the Championship.

During his 20-match spell at the club, Pulis has led the club to nine victories.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

To put this into context, his win percentage of 45% is only fractionally higher than the 42.86% he managed with Crystal Palace when fighting relegation.

Considering the quality in the Boro squad and ambitions of the club, to win less than half of the matches in charge is disappointing.

It is interesting to note that Middlesbrough have kept only six clean sheets in that period of matches and that is a worrying sign for Pulis.

He is a manager known for making teams difficult to beat and it appears that he is struggling to marry that while threatening in attack.

In his previous jobs, there has been less pressure to play attacking football as the objective was to remain rather than progress.

The team selected to play against Sheffield United showed the quality that remains at the club.

Ben Gibson, Jonny Howson, Stewart Downing and Adama Traore were all in the starting eleven among others.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Traore has been a revelation this season and benefitted from a season outside of the Premier League, but a better coach would be able to get more from him and the rest of the attack.

They have four matches remaining and their fate remains in their own hands, as they have Millwall left to play at the Riverside Stadium.

That is shaping up to be a huge match during the penultimate week of the regular season.

At the time of writing, there is only one winner on paper and that isn’t Middlesbrough.

There was logic behind appointing Pulis. He is an experienced Premier League manager who is very good at stabilising a team in the top flight.

In time, Middlesbrough will need this, but he isn’t the right fit for the club right now and that will be clear if they miss out on a play-off position.

Continue Reading


Copyright © 2018 The Boot Room.