In many ways Middlesbrough’s game-of-two-halves opening day defeat to Leicester at the weekend was a microcosm of the last two seasons under manager Tony Mowbray.
A bright and confident start that deteriorated dramatically and ended with a whimper and a shake of the head.
After a promising first-half display saw them go in 1-0 up against Leicester City at The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough just couldn’t handle the Foxes’ more physical and direct approach after the break.
The visitors eventually ran out comfortable winners, with Sean St. Ledger’s first-half own goal cancelled out by second-half strikes from Danny Drinkwater and Jamie Vardy.
The introduction of former England international David Nugent from the bench underlined Leicester’s strength at this level, and Nigel Person’s side look a strong bet to be in the promotion mix-up again come the end of the season.
For Boro boss Mowbray, however, things do not look so rosy. Middlesbrough have now won just three league games from 22 since the start of 2013.
Last season Boro started their campaign brightly, racking up victories over all three of the newly-relegated teams from the Premier League (Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers), as well as wins over two of the three sides which ultimately went on to gain promotion (Hull City and Crystal Palace).
Yet a quite dismal run-in – losing 16 of their last 21 games – saw the Teessiders end closer to the relegation zone than the play-off positions they’d occupied all season until the last few weeks.
The on-field reasons for the defeats are obvious. An inability to put the ball in the net at one end and a frail, leaky defence at the other has made for a toxic mix – one which has left many Boro fans pessimistic about a return to the Premier League after a five-year hiatus.
Adding to this pessimism is the paucity of signings arriving on Teesside over the summer (only three so far), despite Mowbray’s insistence that recruiting new blood is an ongoing priority behind the scenes.
Only defensive midfielder Dean Whitehead, defender Frazer Richardson and midfielder Jozsef Varga, on a season-long loan from Debrecen, have come in, while the list of players who were part of the squad last season but who are no longer at the club is a lengthy one.
The likes of Julio Arca, Andre Bikey and loan players such as Chelsea’s Josh McEachran, Nottingham Forest’s Ishmael Miller and Newcastle United’s Sammy Ameobi have all departed the club.
The mathematics – three in, 11 out - makes for a depleted, threadbare squad which is in desperate need of strengthening before the transfer window shuts in four weeks' time.
Mowbray had hoped to bring in some much-needed firepower by now – a centre forward 'who can score 25-30 goals next season', was how he described it to the GazetteLive website over the summer – yet such free-scoring centre forwards are in notoriously short supply.
For the time being, then, the Boro boss looks resigned to relying once again on hit-and-miss Lukas Jutkieiwcz and the enigmatic Dutchman Marvin Emnes to supply the goals – a pair who only managed 15 league goals between them last season.
No wonder optimism – like that 25-30 goals a season centre-forward – is in short supply on Teesside.
Middlesbrough’s Tuesday night home game against Accrington Stanley in the Capital One Cup now becomes more than a run out for the reserves.
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