Middlesbrough 2016/17 - Post Mortem
Last Saturday's humiliation to Bournemouth signalled all but the end of any lingering hope of Boro's survival.
First and foremost, I felt incredibly sorry for any fan that had to make the long slog down to the south coast because the performance was to be quite frank, a shambles. Steve Gibson and the club should be refunding all the fans that went to the game, period.
From looking fairly comfortable around Christmas, Boro's season has crumbled faster than Ryvita. No wins since the 3-0 win over Swansea in December, plenty of 0-0s and a lot of huffing and puffing in front of goal has left fans exasperated.
So, shifting through the wreckage what mistakes have been made and what must Boro learn from this experience if we are to be promoted next year.
The biggest flaw of the whole season stems back to the biggest the was conducted in the transfer market over the summer and in January.
There were numerous eyebrow raising decisions such as buying Guzan and Valdes, bringing back Bamford and also buying Guedioura after missing out on Jese and Bojan. But the biggest and most obvious flaw for me starts in the wide areas.
Yes, Negredo has been largely isolated all season, but the transfer policy with wingers has been a massive surprise to me. After going to see Middlesbrough lose to Palace 1-0 at Selhurst Park, it was abundantly clear that one of the reasons Palace will stay up is because of the quality that Townsend and Zaha provide. As well as being direct and strong dribblers, they have a great final product and Benteke as a result has thrived.
This summer we've decided to buy Fischer (who seems to have vanished off the face of the earth), Adama who has the speed of Roadrunner and the delivery of Bambi on ice and finally we sold Adomah, who I think we'd been better off keeping in the squad. That then leaves us with Stuani who we all know is better as a No.9 and an ageing Downing.
With the quality of balls in from the likes of Adama and Stuani, it's been a vital area that's simply been under-resourced in the transfer market this season.
Well, what can be said about Gaston's season, started the season very sharply and it looked as if we'd picked up a real bargain of a free transfer. Buoyed by a stunning goal against the Cherries and a match-winning header against Hull, it was like a switch flipped in him after interest from Leicester.
As well as off the field misdemeanours, Gaston's attitude and treatment of a club that has rescued his career is quite simply appalling. Then, the straw that broke the camel's back, that tackle on Saturday. On a yellow, he flies into the Bournemouth and isn't anyway near the ball...in my opinion, he's got himself sent off deliberately because it's beyond stupid. Thus, leaving his teammates in a lurch and leaving many fans to witness a car crash of a game from Boro.
I sincerely hope that's the last time he wears a Boro shirt.
Like any Boro fan, I'll always be thankful we have one of the best chairmen in the land (if not the best), but this shouldn't absolve him of any criticism.
There are certainly a few instances when there was a clear discord between Karanka and Gibson in terms of transfers, who really bought Rhodes and Downing? This confusion needs to be ironed out as soon as possible for when the next manager takes charge because it simply isn't a sustainable way of working with any manager by undermining his transfer targets.
Furthermore, the promise "to have a go" has really fallen flat with many fans, its just felt like a lie to be honest. This season has had many hallmarks of the last season we had in the Premier League, lack of goals and poor recruitment (Alves, Aliadiere, Digard and Mido...need I say more?).
Then there's the Agnew experiment, Gibson has a track record of giving untried and untested managers a chance to cut their cloth but to go with Agnew with 10 games left was an odd decision. Hull brought in Silva, Palace went for Allardyce and Swansea brought in Clement and they've been rewarded with an outsider coming in and breathing fresh ideas into the team, instead of promoting from within.
Whatever happens between now and the end of the season we need to start preparing for another Championship slog next year. The likes of Bamford, Gustede are going to start needing game time as well as Ayala and Forshaw, on paper we'll have a strong side at that level but the team will need to be mentally focused from the off, there can't be a hangover (like Villa and Norwich have suffered this season).
The likely hood is Ben Gibson will leave (hopefully for upwards of 20m) and maybe a few others so we should have money to rebuild the squad. I've also been pleased to see us being linked with the likes of Aaron Mooy and the prolific Tammy Abraham, hopefully, we can attack the league again next year with a fresh approach.