Where did it all go wrong for Middlesbrough?
Middlesbrough returned to the Premier League after a lengthy absence determined to re-establish themselves among the great and the good once again.
Head coach Aitor Karanka, who had ended the club's seven-year wait for top-flight football, insisted from the off that survival was the only objective for the season. Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at where it all went wrong.
HE DID IT HIS WAY
Karanka, a disciple of Jose Mourinho, did a fine job in securing automatic promotion a year after suffering the heartache of play-off final defeat and was rightly applauded for his efforts. However, the methods which restored Boro to where they believe they belong proved ill-suited to life in the top tier. Karanka's conservative defensive approach served to stifle his team's creativity against better opposition and, after Plan A had stopped working, the search for a workable Plan B was still ongoing when he collected his cards.
Chairman Steve Gibson is famously loyal to his managers, although pragmatic enough to know when the point of no return has been reached and ruthless enough to do something about it. There were a series of crossroads in Karanka's reign - the day last season he was sent home from the training ground after a dressing room bust-up and his public criticism of both fans and the club's transfer policy in January this year - when Gibson chose to back the Spaniard. By the time the pair parted company in March with 11 games remaining, it may already have been too late, especially given the nature of Boro's final four fixtures, but the chairman's decision to hand assistant Steve Agnew a chance rather than appoint a proven firefighter ultimately did not pay off.
TROUBLE WITH TRANSFERS
Gibson resisted the temptation to dig deep into the club's £170million promotion windfall when they set about improving their squad for the Premier League, although they did invest significantly. Atalanta midfielder Marten de Roon cost a cool £12million and there were ambitious and successful moves for much-decorated former Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes and on loan, ex-Manchester City frontman Alvaro Negredo. However, the problem came in January when, with Karanka hoping to boost creativity by attracting the likes of Bojan Krkic, Robert Snodgrass and Jese Rodriguez to Teesside, he was less than impressed when he got Adlene Guedioura, Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
Results may not appear to back up the theory, but Boro have improved under Agnew. He may have managed only one win from his nine games at the helm to date and there have been drubbings at Hull and Bournemouth too, but they played some of their best football of the campaign in drawing 2-2 with Manchester City on a day when they were unfortunate not to win. However, realistically they needed to be safe by the time they encountered City, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool and when they were not, the writing was on the wall.