TWELVE months ago, Middlesbrough’s final home game witnessed joyous scenes as the club’s supporters spilled out of the stands to celebrate promotion to the Premier League. On Saturday, as the Teessiders signed off for another home campaign, the mood could hardly have been more different.

Instead of the players being serenaded, they were booed, jeered and ridiculed. The chants of support were for a head coach who has departed rather than one that remains, and the customary ‘lap of appreciation’ took place in front of half-empty stands. From running onto the pitch to running out of patience, this has been a chastening season for anyone associated with Middlesbrough.

The one positive is that, from a home perspective at least, it is now at an end. Time is a great healer, and by the time Boro return to action for their opening home game of next season’s Championship campaign, changes will have taken place, wounds will have begun to heal and a degree of optimism will have returned, even if some fans initially choose to stay away.

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That is the way football works, but for now, the prevailing mood on Teesside is one of bitterness and angst, with the fans seemingly every bit as divided as the squad has appeared on occasion this season. Some blame Aitor Karanka, others feel the Spaniard should have been sacked much sooner. Hence the songs that sporadically broke out serenading the former boss, but which did not enjoy universal support throughout the ground.

There is a shared acceptance that some players have let themselves down badly this term, but some of the key offenders – most notably the completely discredited Gaston Ramirez – were not present. So it was Stewart Downing coming in for most stick, especially when he was substituted midway through the second half, along with goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who will head back to the United States in the summer having been forced to endure the embarrassment of his own fans chanting for him to be sent off after he brought down Southampton striker Shane Long to concede a penalty.

It made for a thoroughly uncomfortable afternoon, although that is what happens when hopes are extinguished and dreams are dashed. As Steve Gibson succinctly concluded in his post-match interview with BBC Tees, “We’ve failed, and we know that.”

“I’ve been a fan once, when I was young at Forest, and I got frustrated with players when they didn’t do what you wanted them to,” said Patrick Bamford, whose goalscoring return to the starting line-up was one of the few positives to emerge from Saturday’s game. “I totally understand why fans gets frustrated.

“They are entitled to voice their opinion because they pay their hard-earned money to come and support us. The good thing about the Boro supporters is, fair enough, they gave us some stick back, but next year, I know they will all be behind us.”

Having returned to Teesside in a £6m move from Chelsea in January, Bamford will almost certainly be around in August to contribute to the rebuild. The key question for the next few weeks is who will be accompanying him, and even more importantly, who will be in charge when Boro kick off their Championship campaign.

Steve Agnew? It is looking increasingly unlikely, with Gibson’s post-match comments fuelling the belief that Sunday’s trip to Liverpool will be the current head coach’s final game in charge.

If that is the case, then Agnew can count himself somewhat unfortunate. He inherited an extremely difficult situation, with Boro’s players having become demotivated and divided in the final months of Karanka’s reign. Boro failed to win their final ten league games under Karanka, but even so, it is hard to see Agnew’s record of six points from a possible 30 as anything other than a complete let down.

“It’s about the club, and as I’ve said before, it’s about how we now bounce back rather than my position or situation,” said Agnew, who once again stuck to his pre-rehearsed script after the game. “It’s about the future of Middlesbrough Football Club.” His loyalty is admirable, but his downbeat demeanour is hardly inspiring.

And what of the players currently playing beneath him? Alvaro Negredo and Calum Chambers will leave next weekend as their loan deals expire, and Victor Valdes will also be on his way along with Guzan. Beyond that, though, as Agnew was right to point out, the rest of the squad are contracted beyond the summer. If a new head coach comes in, though, how many players will he want to retain?

Clearly not Ramirez, and for all the bullish talk about retaining Ben Gibson, Boro will surely find it hard to reject an offer from one of the big boys if it edges towards the £30m mark. The bigger poser probably relates to the likes of George Friend, Daniel Ayala, Adam Clayton, Grant Leadbitter, Adam Forshaw and Downing though. They are tried and tested in the Championship, but is a radical shake-up required to re-energise the squad for next season?

“The majority of our players have experienced the Championship,” said Bamford. “Some of them have been to the play-off final and lost, and then come up. That experience can only help us.”

That is true, although things looked stale at the weekend as Boro slumped to their ninth home defeat of the season.

A tediously dull first half was enlivened by Southampton’s opener three minutes before the interval, with Jay Rodriguez taking advantage of some slack marking from Chambers to sweep home Long’s right-wing cross on the half-volley.

Southampton doubled their lead as an unmarked Nathan Redmond cut inside Fabio da Silva to drive home from inside the area, but wasted a glorious opportunity to stretch further clear as Long blazed his spot-kick over the crossbar.

Bamford’s first goal for 760 days came when he headed home Viktor Fischer’s corner, but there was to be no grandstand finish, with Boro’s only chance of an equaliser coming to nothing when Fraser Forster saved Chambers’ powerful shot.