McBoro is a major risk for Strachan

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Boro fan Toby Higgins reflects on Gordon Strachan's Glasgowcentric shopping trips...

Gareth Southgate the pundit isn't too dissimilar to Gareth Southgate the player. He's calm and composed, with great positional understanding, and reads the game as well as any. He's reliable, if prone to the odd gaffe, and is fast becoming a respected voice among his audience.

To Middlesbrough fans, that makes a refreshing change. Gareth Southgate the manager was unsuccessful, his calmness taken as a lack of passion, his politeness a lack of adventure, and his mantra that a young squad needed time to learn quickly becoming a tired excuse.

The need for change prompted the arrival of Gordon Strachan, and Boro fans were understandably impressed when the Scot swaggered through the Riverside Stadium car park on the way to his first press conference, clutching in his hand a list with the names of the players he wanted to sign. There stood a manager who knew his own mind, a man who'd impose much-needed discipline on a largely immature squad more in need of a telling off than an arm around the shoulder.

But Strachan started poorly and won only three of his first 14 games – compared to Southgate's opening 14 games that term, which brought seven wins and second position in the league. The new man's selection policy was unsettling - in his 33 matches he tried 20 different back four combinations and over the season Boro used 40 players.

All that did was push away fans, who became disillusioned with reading a team sheet of players they'd never heard of playing in positions they couldn't play. It's a long way from the 2006 UEFA Cup final to borrowing from Birmingham and Stoke.

But it's the permanent signings that have attracted most media attention. 'McBoro' have six Scots on the playing staff and four more as part of the coaching team. Add Willo Flood, Scott McDonald and Chris Killen and Boro will start next season with at least nine players signed from north of the border in the space of 10 months.

It's an almighty gamble that Strachan is taking, one that has led some to ask whether his phone only stores numbers that start 0141. Very few of the new players have experience in England, and while the scrappiness of the mid-winter Championship might more closely resemble the SPL than the Premier League, players accustomed to hothouses of Parkhead and Ibrox must quickly grow accustomed to a stadium which frequently feels lifeless.

Then again, unlike most signings they shouldn't be fazed by the bitterness of the Teesside winter, and the training facilities at Hurworth are the equal of anything they'll have worked with in Scotland.

Strachan is banking on mental strength as he looks to create a squad in his own image. He says that players from the Glasgow clubs are used to winning, but that's because they play for the best teams with the biggest budgets and the most fans, which won't be the case at Middlesbrough.

Every game will be a battle and unlike in Scotland, the standard is much more even from top to bottom. All three of the promoted sides – Norwich, Leeds and Millwall – will have their eyes on a second consecutive promotion, while Hull, Portsmouth and Burnley will all expect to bounce straight back.

The pressure on Strachan, and the entire club, is huge. With the Premier League aura rapidly diminishing and the parachute payments due to expire next summer, Boro have to get it right this time or face going the way of Coventry and Ipswich, or worse, Sheffield Wednesday and Southampton.

All the eggs are in one basket, and all the Scots are in one team. But if things go badly, Strachan could well find himself lining up alongside his predecessor in Poland for Euro 2012 – on the pundit panel.

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