Steve Agnew has warned Middlesbrough they will have to throw off the shackles for good if they are to make an immediate return to the Premier League.
The man asked to spark a late-season revival at the Riverside Stadium following head coach Aitor Karanka’s exit in March had to find a new way after the Spaniard’s conservative approach had left his team mired in a defensive mindset that ultimately proved terminal.
Boro have adopted a more attacking approach under Agnew, with mixed results, and a relegation that had looked to be on the cards long before he took over was finally confirmed at Chelsea on Monday evening.
However, the 51-year-old believes more of the same is required if the club are to fight their way back out of the Championship at the first attempt.
Asked what lessons had to be learned, Agnew said: “It’s simple: the level that we are playing at, we have to be more creative and we have to take more risks and we have to create more chances and we have to score more goals.
“But understanding at the same time that you’re playing against a level of opposition that has better defenders than the league that you came from.
“Yes, we must be better and we must continue as a club to think that we have one aim next season, and that is to move back very, very quickly to the league that we have just played in all season.”
Whether Agnew will be the man to lead that quest remains to be seen with chairman Steve Gibson facing a big decision.
The present incumbent has studiously avoided discussing his long-term future since his elevation despite admitting he felt ready for his first managerial post, and he remained coy as he planned for the penultimate game of the season at home to Southampton today.
He said: “After the disappointment of the other night, it has been an emotional time and understandably so, and I am no different. I feel responsibility for what has happened and I will take that because that’s how I am.
“But it’s not about my future, it’s not about my situation, it’s about Middlesbrough Football Club.
“It’s about us understanding where we are, it’s about how we finish strongly in these last couple of games and then we regroup, have a good summer and make sure that we’re in the fight to bounce back to the Premier League as quickly as we possibly can.”
Agnew has no fresh injury problems. However, goalkeeper Victor Valdes (ribs), defender Daniel Ayala (ankle) and midfielder Gaston Ramirez (groin) remain doubts and are unlikely to feature.
Southampton boss Claude Puel may make a number of changes due to a late-season fixture pile-up with the likes of Shane Long and Sofiane Boufal pushing for recalls. There could be space in the squad for fit-again duo Charlie Austin and Matt Targett but Virgil van Dijk (ankle) and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy (hamstring) are out.
Last six games: Middlesbrough DLLWDL Southampton WWLLDD.
Referee: A Taylor (Cheshire).
Last time: Middlesbrough 2 Southampton 1; April 21, 2012; Championship.