WITH Boro’s Berlin Wall removed the clean sheet record and unbeaten start followed. They had the edge in the first half but failed to make the possession and chances count then were second best after the break and were deservedly beaten by a functional Bristol City.
For the second time in a week, when the opposition stepped up the tempo and intensity of the game, the defence struggled to cope. And for the second time in a week Boro had a golden chance to seal the game but Jeremie Aliadiere blew it big time.
What will worry fans more is the confession after the game that gaffer Gareth Southgate doesn’t have a penny to spend – and may not even be able to afford free transfers.
Most people will have seen the quotes from the BBC. The cut-and-paste cyber-space machinery has churned out the same three sentences everywhere in which Southgate admitted that despite the ÃÂ£11m joint fee from Stoke for Huth and Tuncay he may not have the option to strengthen a threadbare side weak in every department. But he added a few more remarks even more indicative of the current parlous financial situation.
Boro – who have also sold Stewart Downing to Aston Villa for ÃÂ£10m in the summer – fielded a side that featured six academy graduates in the starting line up and with an average age of 22 years old. Of the staring line-up only Mark Yeates (ÃÂ£750,000), Julio Arca (ÃÂ£2m) and Marvin Emnes (ÃÂ£3.2m) had cost the club a penny in fees.
The squad is crying out for experience and numbers to beef up the squad – but those reinforcements are unlikely and he has not ruled out that more key players could leave.
“We came here looking for a result ahead of the transfer deadline which could see players leaving, I’ve lost Robert Huth and Tuncay to Stoke City and more could be going, and it doesn’t look as if I’ll have any money to spend.” We know that. That is the snippet from the scrum that has been used everywhere.
But asked specifically if Boro would still push ahead with a move for free agent striker Danny Webber – a player who has already turned down Crystal Palace and Swansea on the assumption of a move to the Riverside – he said tersely: “At the moment we wouldnt be able to do anything on that.”
He reiterated that Boro must first sell misfit ‘goal machine’ Afonso Alves who has not featured in the first team this season, who did not go on the pre-season trip to Scotland and who was heavily hinted by the boss to be not committed to the shirt or the cause. There has been some vague interest from Holland, Portugal and Qatar but no one wants to take him on his ÃÂ£40k a week wages – and unless Boro can lose that millstone from around their necks they can’t even sign a striker who is on the dole.
“We still have Alves and so we dont really have the room to do anything,” he explained. “And on Alves there is nothing imminent.
You would hope that Lambie has spent the entire weekend on the phone to Porto, Ajax and every club between here and Qatar thrashing out a formula on wages and fee that would enable Alves to be prised out, The alternative is unthinkable .
“I will just be pleased to get to Tuesday and keep the squad we have already got because that is going to be as important as any additions we might make.”
If the pressure is on to bring in more money to reduce debts the biggest danger now appears to be that unless Alves can be moved on then a late bid for Boro’s few remaining readily saleable assets – Wheater, Johnson, O’Neil will raise the most but Williams, Taylor, Grounds, McMahon would also have suitors – may well be accepted… a course that will spark outright fan revolt and leave the team vulnerable to the worst.
Meanwhile, if Alves doesn’t go before Tuesday then the disaffected, demotivated and unfit flop will have to come in from the cold. Southgate knows that and for the first time included him in his calculations. Asked if without a new striker Boro – Webber or Hulse – were short up front he said: “Well, we have four good strikers in the squad at the moment: the three that were here today plus Afonso Alves. That is a full complement.”
Now, where did we put that banner?