New Boro boss Gordon Strachan made his first signing today by securing Birmingham striker Marcus Bent on a two month loan. Bent goes straight into the squad for tomorrow's game against Plymouth and is expected to partner Leroy Lita in attack.
Strachan's immediate priorities are the subject of the following article, coming soon to a fanzine near you....
Drifting away from the Riverside after a useful but uninspiring victory over an abject Derby County, it certainly didn't feel like one of the most important nights in the recent history of MFC. The departure of Gareth Southgate was unexpected, most of all by the man himself. The Southgate era has come to a brutal end. If Gordon Strachan is to succeed where Southgate ultimately failed, he has some key issues to address.
GET THE FANS BACK ON BOARD
Much was made of the attendance against Derby dropping below 50% of the Riverside's capacity. We know now that Steve Gibson's mind was already made before the game. Even so, a fractured, apathetic and disenchanted fanbase was clearly one of his reasons for removing Southgate. The club's finances have been steadied by the summer sales but the 6,000 fans who've disappeared since the Sheffield United game punch a big hole in the books. Gibson has called the bluff of many critics by removing the man perceived to be the main problem. There's still a long road to getting the Riverside bouncing an even 75% full on a consistent basis...
SORT OUT THE RIVERSIDE COMPLEX
...and the main reason for that is a long run of insipid, unconvincing performances at the Riverside Stadium. The players often seem to find a home advantage more of a burden. Too many were tentative, wilting under the expectation of victory. The crowd have generally shown more patience than would be expected at many other clubs but that has its limits. Even when winning, Boro haven't come close to achieving the level of fluency at the Riverside that they have done repeatedly away from home. Outside of the Premier League, matchday income becomes a far greater proportion of the club's funding. Starting today, a few good home wins could be worth more than just three points.
SHARPEN THE ATTACK
Leroy Lita hasn't contributed as many goals as might have been hoped but has been impressive in recent weeks. His fitness is clearly getting better, he's a willing runner and he did show his potential with that terrific goal at Reading. Otherwise, its been slim pickings. Barring a freakish four days which yielded three goals, Jeremie Aliadiere hasn't convinced. Marvin Emnes is still too raw for regular first team football. Caleb Folan galumphed around for an hour against West Brom then twanged a hamstring.
In Adam Johnson, Boro are still far too reliant on a player who might be gone in three months. A new striker, even on loan, has to be a priority.
PLAY TO THE WHISTLE
Two more points were thrown away in stoppage time at Preston last week. It happens far too often for comfort. Boro's habit of leaking late goals cannot be written off as bad luck or coincidence. It went a long way to relegating us last year and it will scupper our automatic promotion hopes at this rate.
David Wheater and Sean St Ledger are promising players in their own right but haven't totally convinced as a partnership. Wheater still seems to be pining for Robert Huth while St Ledger's generally positive have been blotted with lapses of concentration.
Nevertheless, this problem seems more like a reflection of mental weakness than any individual players. There might not be an easy answer – Southgate, at least, seemed powerless to find one.
Read this and more in tomorrow's Fly Me To The Moon