PL25: 2-4-6-8 Gareth Southgate (2007/08)

The 2017/18 season celebrates 25 years of the Premier League. To mark the occasion we’ll be taking a look at some of the more off-kilter moments from each season. After a fairly mediocre season for both Middlesbrough and Manchester City in 2007/08, the two sides met on the final day in a meaningless end-of-season fixture, but the result sent shockwaves through the Premier League.

Middlesbrough’s draw away at Manchester City at the end of the 2004/05 season had secured European football for the North East side and given them another crack at the UEFA Cup whip, having reached the round of sixteen that very season, following on from their League Cup win the previous year. This was a golden period on Teeside, with Steve McClaren marshalling a side featuring European stalwarts such as Michael Reiziger and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, alongside a raft of homegrown players in Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson. McClaren’s final season saw Boro reach the UEFA Cup final before succumbing to a superior Sevilla side, and after seeing his manager poached by the national team, Steve Gibson entrusted the top job to the inexperienced Gareth Southgate. After guiding the side to a 12th placed finish in his first season, hopes were high ahead of 2007/08, not least because Gibson had given Southgate free reign to spend big in the transfer market. The sales of Yakubu and James Morrison generated £13m and genuine quality was brought in with the signing of Jonathan Woodgate from Real  Madrid. The gaping hole up front was filled to capacity by Egyptian striker and Sunday Roast enthusiast Mido, with Arsenal’s reserve forward Jeremie Aliadiere signed as cover. Luke Young and Gary O’Neil came in to do a job too and the signing of Tuncay Sanli on a free proved to be Boro’s best piece of business all season. Seven points from their opening five games was far from a disaster, but with Mido misfiring it quickly became apparent that Southgate’s side would struggle for goals. Four points from their next ten games left Boro in the bottom three at the beginning of December, but back-to-back wins against Arsenal and Derby County lifted them out of trouble in time for Christmas. Even so, with three goals and four points from their next five games, the goalscoring issue still needed to be addressed and in January Southgate splurged £13m on Brazilian striker Afonso Alves.

VOETBAL SC HEERENVEEN - FC GRONINGEN

Alves had made a name for himself as a prolific striker in the Eredivisie with Heerenveen and, though it seems ridiculous to use as a barometer for ability now, the Riverside faithful were hopeful he could follow in the footsteps of Romario, Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy, who’d all torn up the Dutch league before embarking on successful careers across Europe. Alves had come to the attention of Heerenveen after five successful years in Sweden with Orgryte and Malmo averaging more than a goal in every two games. During his 18 months in Freisland he’d plundered 45 goals in 39 appearances, which you’d have to say is #decent. That form had seen him emerge as a striking option for Brazil, and he’s played his part in the squad that won the 2007 Copa America. All told, Alves was a man on form and despite £13m being a serious chunk of change at the time, Southgate was confident he’d found the man to solve his sides woes in front of goal. Alves’ arrival coincided with a mini-run of good form for Boro in the league, as they went five games unbeaten. The fifth of those, a 1-0 victory over Fulham, saw Alves make his first appearance for the Teesiders as a second half substitute, though Aliadiere had already struck the decisive blow by that point. By now Boro were coasting to Premier League survival, sitting seven points ahead of the bottom three, but with the second lowest goal tally in the league (ahead of Derby County, suffering the worst Premier League season to date). It took Alves six games to get on the scoresheet which prompted murmers of wasted money among the press pack, but his brace against Manchester United suggested that he might have finally adapted to the Premier League and could be one to watch the following season. Four points from four games before the final day saw Boro safe, and they headed into the match against Manchester City assured of safety and unlikely to budge from their position in 14th.

If it had been something of a season of transition in the North East, then the goings on at Manchester City represented a large-scale homage to the BBC’s ‘Changing Rooms’. Former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra purchased a controlling stake in the club for £81.6m and promptly appointed former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson as his main man. The Swede had been out of work since leaving his national team post following the 2006 World Cup (promptly replaced with Steve McClaren), but following on from the hapless Stuart Pearce, Eriksson was a much-welcomed high profile acquisition for City. Shinawatra was quick to flex his financial muscle, backing his new manager to the tune of £40m in the summer transfer window as Rolando Bianchi, Gelson Fernandes, Geovanni, Martin Petrov, Vedran Corluka, Elano, Javier Garrido, and Valeri Bojinov were signed to rejuvenate the first team squad, and City fans excitedly crammed into Eastlands to take a look at their new team. Three wins on the bounce at the start of the season, including victory in the Manchester derby, had City off to a flier, and despite back to back losses at Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers, their good form continued to the end of October – a run of four wins in five enough to put them third after ten games. The first major hiccup of the season came in their following game at Stamford Bridge, as Chelsea lay waste to Eriksson’s side in a 6-0 drubbing.

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Still, a run of one defeat from their next ten kept them in contention for a Champions League place at the start of 2008, though Shinawatra was keen to add some quality up front having seen summer signings Bianchi and Bojinov flounder. A further £9m was laid out for Felipe Caicedo and Benjani – who almost missed the January transfer deadline by falling asleep at the airport – and the Thai supremo was confident that his first season in control at the City of Manchester Stadium could end in European qualification. A run of four without a win was halted when Benjani struck the decisive goal at Old Trafford to give City a rare double over their local rivals, but it quickly became apparent that Eriksson’s team did have what it takes to stay the distance. The derby victory was followed by a run of one win in seven, and heading into the final month of the season City had dropped to ninth, fourteen points adrift of the top four. Back to back victories against Sunderland and Portsmouth put them back in the reckoning for an automatic UEFA Cup place, though these results were followed by two losses, and City’s inconsistency left them with little to play for come the final day. That inconsistency had led to Shinawatra publicly stating that Eriksson would be replaced at the end of the season after an “avalanche of very poor results“. The owner had seen nothing yet.

And so the last day of the season arrived with very little to play for and a ‘last day at school’ vibe at the Riverside. Future England manager Gareth Southgate prepared to take on former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, Afonso Alves looked to add to his meagre tally of three goals since his mega-money move, and the watching public hadn’t the inkling of what was about to unfold. Eriksson, who’d clearly been phoning it in for the last few weeks of the season, sent out something of a makeshift team as back-up keeper Andreas Isaksson replaced a young Joe Hart in goal, while Sun Jihai made a rare appearance in defence. Left-back Garrido was given a game on the wing, and Elano and Dietmar Hamann were dropped to the bench. Tuncay started just behind Alves, and it was the Turk’s first involvement in the game that foreshadowed the bizarre afternoon ahead. Bursting through on goal, the Boro forward was hauled down by City captain Richard Dunne, and the Irishman was given a straight red for preventing a goalscoring opportunity. Stewart Downing converted the resultant penalty and it seemed the short Eriksson era was going to end in a damp squib. Alves almost doubled the lead shortly after, but for a fine save from Isaksson, though the Brazilian didn’t have to wait too long to add to his Middlesbrough tally, drilling a low shot into the net eight minutes before the break. A couple of goals to cheer for the gathered 25,000 Boro fans then, and the semblance of an entertaining game to see the season out. Then in the second half, it got very silly. Stewart Downing added his second of the afternoon with a hooked shot before, two minutes later, Alves doubled his day’s work to make it 4-0. Future Manchester City winger and convicted paedophile Adam Johnson added a fifth with twenty minutes to go, and the visitors looked to be capitulating wholesale. A superb free-kick from Fabio Rochemback was met by cheers of disbelief from the home supporters, and Jeremie Aliadiere’s goal to make it seven took the biscuit. The smallest amount of cheer was reserved for Elano’s reply for City in the final minute, but even while the home fans’ derisory jeers were still echoing around the Riverside Stadium, Alves popped up to seal his hat-trick and cap an extraordinary afternoon. Middlesbrough 8 (EIGHT) Manchester City 1.

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Incredibly, Manchester City ended the season qualifying for the UEFA Cup via the Fair Play League, in spite of Dunne’s dismissal on the last day. They would be led their by Mark Hughes as Eriksson received his promised marching orders. The Swede has since taken roles as Mexico and Ivory Coast national manager, as well as a stint in charge of Leicester City, though currently he’s coining it in managing in China. Hughes’ relationship with Shinawatra had very little time to blossom as, on the 1st September 2008, Manchester City were purchased by the Abu Dhabi group for £200m, changing the course of the club’s history forever. Hughes lasted only 18 months before Roberto Mancini arrived to spark the beginning of Manchester City’s rise to the top.

Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough career reached his zenith on that final day, as the club were relegated the following season. After two months in charge of the side in the Championship, he was relieved of his duties and replaced by Gordon Strachan. Boro have returned just once in the intervening decade, but were relegated at the first time of asking. Southgate took a job working with the England U21s in 2013 and, unbelievably, was given the national manager’s job in 2016. He is currently preparing the side for the 2018 World Cup.

Manchester United reasserted their dominance at the top of the Premier League with their second title in a row, despite being taken to the final day by Chelsea and losing both Manchester derbies in a season for the first time since 1970. Typical fare for a City fan, who are no strangers to having a love/hate relationship with their club. Or should that be love/eight?

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