HIS side’s promotion hopes over for another year, Tony Mowbray can start rebuilding.
Nine out-of-contract players will be called into the manager’s office this morning. None will be offered what they hoped for.
Cutting them loose will give Mowbray vital wriggle room. The recruits needed are the most expensive ones – goalscorers and creators.
That was reiterated in the 2-1 defeat at Watford which ended Boro’s season with a whimper, one place and five points outside the play-offs.
In the first half Boro were frustrated by Scott Loach, playing after Tomasz Kuszczak was presented with another daughter hours earlier. For much of the second they could not break down Watford. Desperation football at the death created a handful of opportunities but only one goal – Marvin Emnes’ volley out of keeping with his overall performance.
On his final appearance before joining Vancouver Whitecaps Barry Robson made it, having spurned Boro’s best chance when Emnes’ slip landed Lukas Jutkiewicz’s pull-back on a plate, allowing Loach perhaps his best save.
“I don’t think I have been in a team that has missed so many bloody chances,” moaned the midfielder.
The play-off places went to last season’s Premier League teams, plus League Cup finalists and perennial contenders Cardiff City.
Budgets and injuries – first-choice centre-backs Matt Bates and Rhys Williams missed the run-in, the latter returning from an ankle injury in midfield on Saturday – provided easy excuses which will not wash at the Riverside.
“We had the squad to go up, definitely,” said Robson. “I have not seen anything miles better than us.
“Our home form let us down, we made a lot of mistakes over the season and had a lot of injuries.
“We probably had a squad good enough to cope with that. We have fallen short a wee bit.”
Robson arrived under Gordon Strachan, when parachute money was spent on Scots with the mental and physical toughness to return McBoro to the top table. Instead a relegation battle ensued.
“To come from a great club like Celtic, my idea was to play at the highest level,” Robson reflected. “It never really worked out like that. I have still really enjoyed it. The fans have been fantastic, the manager, the coaching staff, everyone at the club have been great with me. But it’s time to move on.
“I wanted to leave the fans with promotion, knowing the club was moving forward and building. I have given my all this season, I really wanted it to happen, but it wasn’t to be.”
With most if not all of Bates, Justin Hoyte, Andy Hammill, Tony McMahon, Malaury Martin, Bart Ogbeche, Danny Coyne, Jonathan Franks and Jonathan Grounds set to follow Robson out, Mowbray must take a different approach. Only Hoyte and unused substitute McMahon were in Saturday’s 16.
“I hope somebody backs him because he has done a good job this season,” Robson said. “He knows a good player when he sees one.”
Mowbray reflected: “At home it’s probably been a little bit of creativity from the middle we’ve lacked, and maybe individuality out wide to go past people. With less resource we will try to build a better team.”
The survivors must therefore improve too. “When we are playing as expansively as we did at times in the last 20 minutes, taking care of your passing is paramount because you’re going to be so out of shape when you lose it, it’s very, very dangerous,” Mowbray cautioned. “Those are little lessons.”
On Saturday Boro were breached twice on the counter-attack, forgivable as they needed victory in case Cardiff lost at Crystal Palace. Chris Iwelumo opened the scoring after Troy Deeney outmuscled Joe Bennett in the air, and the latter flew past an exhausted Nicky Bailey and Robson to settle matters.
WATFORD: Loach; Doyley, Nosworthy, Taylor, Dickinson; Eustace; Buaben, Hogg (Forsyth 49), Murray; Iwelumo (Mariappa 89), Dreeney. Subs (not used): Gilmartin, Whichelow, Garner. Booked: Eustace 74 Goals: Iwelumo 70, Deeney 89
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele; Hoyte, Hines, McManus, Bennett; Bailey; Haroun (McDonald 58), Williams, Robson; Emnes; Jutkiewicz (Main 58). Subs (not used): Thomson, Arca, McMahon. Booked: McManus 46, Bailey 70. Goals: Emnes 85
Referee: S Hooper (Wiltshire)
Attendance: 14,022 (2,020)