Big summer ahead for Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson
Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson finds himself at a crossroads as he plots the way forward in the wake of relegation.
Defeat at Chelsea on Monday evening ensured Boro will return to the Sky Bet Championship next season after just a single campaign in the top flight, scant reward for a seven-year quest to rub shoulders with English football's aristocrats once again.
Gibson is a rare breed in the modern game, a chairman who could never be accused of not having the best interests of his club at heart and one who enjoys almost unequivocal backing from the supporters.
However, he faces a major decision over the club's direction after the bold one he made in March failed to be rewarded in the way he had hoped.
History suggests he left it too late to part company with head coach Aitor Karanka and his low-risk and at times unadventurous brand of football, and replacing him in the short term with assistant Steve Agnew did not provide Boro with the bounce they needed to get themselves out of trouble.
Gibson now needs to decide if Agnew has done enough to suggest he can match Karanka's achievement in securing another return to the Premier League - there has been no popular outcry against the 51-year-old former Leicester and Sunderland midfielder, but no overwhelming endorsement either - or look for a more experienced man to fill the void.
In addition, he must determine what level of investment is required to fuel a push for an instant return knowing neighbours Newcastle, aided by a bumper summer sales drive, spent heavily and ultimately successfully to build a side tailored specifically to the needs of the Championship.
Boro's recent experience of life in the second tier will work in their favour, although there are certain to be departures with loan signings Calum Chambers and Alvaro Negredo due to rejoin their parent clubs, while the vultures will inevitably circle over some of their better players.
One of those is the chairman's nephew Ben Gibson, although his future was simply not on the agenda as he started to come to terms with the devastation of relegation.
The central defender told the club's official website, www.mfc.co.uk: "It's not about me, it never has been. All that matters is this football club.
"I have no doubt there will be lots of changes at the football club - there always is - and to be honest, there probably has to be because of the manner of how we have been relegated.
"But as I say, now is not the time to talk about individuals. All that matters is Middlesbrough Football Club - that's all that's ever mattered - and we, everyone connected with it, has let it down. It deserves more."
Gibson grew up as a Boro fan and as such, felt the pain as keenly as any of the travelling supporters who witnessed what proved to be something of a capitulation at Stamford Bridge as a 3-0 defeat by Chelsea sent them down.
Asked how much it hurt, he said: "I think it's obvious: the worst moment of my career, the lowest point of my life. It's hard to put into words, really. I'm just absolutely devastated.
"Never in a million years when we got promoted this time last year did I think it would come to this.
"There are obviously loads of reasons. Now is not the time to talk about that. It's too raw, to be honest. I have no doubt that will all come out in the wash, it always does.
"We have got to think about it, process it. It hasn't been good enough, we all know that. It's a hard time and it's hard to think of now, but we have to make sure that we bounce back a lot stronger than we did last time we got relegated."