By Chris Harris
Defeat at Reading. Victory over Chelsea. Capitulation against Pompey. The Premiership campaign is just three games old and already it's been an up-and-down season for Middlesbrough.
There's a new man in charge at the Riverside with Gareth Southgate stepping into the shoes of new England boss Steve McClaren, but Boro are as consistently inconsistent as ever. Philip Tallentire of the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette gives us the lowdown ahead of Saturday's clash at Emirates Stadium.
THE STORY SO FAR
"Inconsistency seems to be a long-running malady at Middlesbrough. They are very good at raising their game against the 'big' teams, the top four or five, but by and large Boro struggle to break down sides you would consider their equal at the Riverside. Is that because those teams have a more negative approach against Boro? Yes, I think there's a lot in that. For example, Portsmouth won 4-0 here a couple of weeks ago but played with two solid banks of four. Boro had more possession and were allowed the ball for the first 30 or 40 yards, but Pompey dug in and won everything around their own penalty area. Boro could not break them down and that is a dilemma time and time again at the Riverside."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"It doesn't surprise me that Gareth Southgate has become a manager but I am a bit surprised at the timing. He still had something to offer as a player but he has said that the challenge of management has given him a new impetus. Most people expected [chairman] Steve Gibson to go for a 'named' manager but when that didn't happen he looked internally. He was keen to keep the coaching structure in place and by appointing Gareth it didn't rock the boat. I expect Gareth to be a thoughtful manager, he is a genuinely nice guy but he knows what he wants. We will see how ruthless he is prepared to be as the season unfolds. He was very, very disappointed by the defeat against Portsmouth and he has already shown his strength of character in the transfer market. He didn't panic when he couldn't get his initial targets and, rather than take any Bosman signing, he held out and got what he wanted."
"Southgate has covered the void he left in the centre of defence by getting Robert Huth and Jonathan Woodgate. He's taken great steps to strengthen that area because all of the goals Boro have conceded this season have been sloppy. Jason Euell has come in and there is a chance Southgate might use him on the right of midfield - an area Boro need strengthening in - but it looks like Gaizka Mendieta will keep that position for the Arsenal match. Julio Arca is another new signing but he is very much left-sided. He is sidelined with injury at the moment but will probably be used at a left-back when he's fit. The jury is out of his defensive capability but there is no doubt he can get forward."
"Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Franck Queudrue have both gone and they are big losses. I think Gareth decided he could cope without Hasselbaink because he has Yakubu and Mark Viduka, but he could have stayed because it was good to have those three to rotate last season. All three are mood players so having the option to change them around was useful. Malcolm Christie and Massimo Maccarone are in reserve but Christie has been out for a long time and there is no guarantee that he will get back what he had, while Maccarone has failed to convince. As for Queudrue, Boro were desperate to keep him but he decided his future lay elsewhere. I think he was frustrated at being cover for Emanuel Pogatetz. The club accepted that he wanted a big challenge and he's proving to be a big loss, not least because he was a real up-and-at-'em kind of player. He got the odd daft booking but stamped a lot of that out."
THE BOY MOST LIKELY TO...
"Funnily enough the young player who should make the biggest impression is someone everyone knows now - Stewart Downing. He has started the season well for Boro, he seems much more mature for being away with England over the summer. He was hit-and-miss last season but is looking like a tried and tested first-team player now. As for the others, the one who took people by surprise last season was Lee Cattermole. He is a combative 18-year-old midfielder but you sense there is more to come from him. If you think of someone like Lee Bowyer at his best, when he contributes goals from midfield, that is how Cattermole could develop. If he can add goals to his game then he can really come on this season."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"I think the message put out in the summer was that Boro wanted to kick on. They finished in the bottom half of the table last season and everyone wants to finish at worst in the top half. They keep talking about the top six as the long-term target. I think realistically a mid-table finish will be accepted by everyone, it's a time to consolidate, bed the new players in, see how the new manager does and wait for him to stamp his mark on the team. The players genuinely want to do well for Gareth, there is no doubt that he is very popular at the club. The fans are fully behind him too - I overheard someone saying that they were really pleased for Gareth after Boro beat Chelsea 2-1. The fans appreciate that he wants to entertain at home, they realise he wants to play football the right way."
IMPRESSIONS OF ARSENAL
"Well, the worse thing that could happen on Saturday is a repeat of last season's 7-0 thrashing, but I can't see that happening especially with Arsenal bedding in at their new stadium. I think realistically the players will take a lot of positives from beating Chelsea and they can go there with the intention of keeping things tight. The best-case scenario would be Woodgate going there and showing what a class act he can be in central defence."
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