Nu finns det bara ett hinder mellan oss och kvalet till nästa säsongs Champions League, nämligen redan nedflyttningsklara Middlesbrough. Våra motståndare har haft en jobbig säsong, främst med sin offensiv, men har trots orsakat problem för några av topplagen, det var inte allt för länge sedan de knep en poäng City. Cathrine Wilson(@basslady) bloggar om laget på espnfc.co.uk och berättar i säsongens sista Q&A om vad vi har att vänta på söndag:
1. Tell us a bit about your season, how was is to be back in PL and what are the main reasons that you got relegated?
After seven years away it felt great to be back in the top flight. It felt like the good times were back again and we would have more money, better players and a higher quality of football back at Middlesbrough. Obviously it hasn’t quite worked out like that and for a number of reasons. After a bright start to the season, it became more difficult heading towards Christmas and it became clear that well needed to add some Premier League-quality players to make the difference. Our defence was great but we were struggling to score goals. The January transfer window was very disappointing for us (bringing in Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede, two Championship-level strikers) and our head coach Aitor Karanka was not impressed as he took no part in the signings. Then the club and Karanka decided to part ways in March, at which point Boro had dropped into the relegation zone and were really struggling. Since then our caretaker manager Steve Agnew has looked for a positive end to the season but a difficult run of fixtures and lack of goals has left us already relegated before the final game.
2. You changed your manager during the season, what are your thoughts on that decision?
Ultimately it feels like the right decision that Karanka and the club parted ways, but happening in March meant it was almost too late for any subsequent change to have real impact. Karanka will be remembered as one of the greatest managers of this club as he helped to get us promoted after some difficult years.
3. Who would you say is your player of the season?
Although it has been difficult to choose an outstanding player this year, it has been great to see the growth and further development of defender Ben Gibson. His excellent skill and strength as a centre-back has attracted the attention of many of the Premier League’s top clubs and it looks likely that he may leave this summer. Not only did the local lad make a name for himself in the league but he also enjoyed his first call-up to the England squad.
4. Looking forward, what do you think will happen at your club this summer? Which players do you think you will build the team around in the championship?
It would be amazing if we could keep Ben Gibson and build our solid defence around him but this seems unlikely. There are a handful of core players who have been at Boro for a few years now (George Friend, Adam Clayton, Adam Forshaw) who can use their knowledge of the Championship to hopefully help to get us back up again at the first time of asking. The biggest question lies around the management – I don’t think caretaker manager Agnew will be a long-term choice for the club, and there is a long list of candidates for the job including Ryan Giggs, Garry Monks and Nigel Pearson. Whoever comes in is certain to make wholesale changes and bring a new backroom setup with them.
5. What would you say was the biggest difference in PL now compared to the last time you were up?
The gulf in quality seems to be bigger than ever year, particularly comparing the quality of players that teams in the top six have with teams lower down in the league. This goes hand in hand with the amount of money that is flying around in the top flight now. For fans things are better now that the away fans initiative means that visitor tickets will never be more than £30. Clubs could definitely do more in this area to help improve the experience and the relationship with their supporters.
6. Liverpool need to win this game, how do you think your team will approach the game?
I am confident that Liverpool will get the result that they need, even while pressure is high and Arsenal have been on a good run lately, too. I think that the manager will tell the players to go out and play for pride, to try to enjoy themselves on their last day in the Premier League. After all, Anfield is one of the greatest footballing venues in the world so I couldn’t ask for a better place to see off our season.