STEVE GIBSON has branded a number of Middlesbrough’s Championship rivals “cheats”, and repeated his call for the EFL to rigidly enforce their Financial Fair Play regulations.

Gibson has spent the last couple of months urging the EFL hierarchy to examine the finances of some of the Championship’s leading clubs, having outlined his concerns at an EFL chairman’s meeting in March.

The Middlesbrough owner is especially unhappy at the conduct of Derby County, Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday, who he feels have not been adhering to the spirit of the financial regulations that were introduced in an attempt to create a level playing field in the Football League and ensure clubs do not get themselves into financial difficulties.

Gibson has accused the three clubs of flouting the regulations to overspend on transfer fees and wages, thus securing a competitive advantage over the likes of Middlesbrough, who have stuck rigidly to the rules.

He has cited the example of Derby owner Mel Morris, who was permitted to sell the club’s Pride Park Stadium before leasing it back, enabling him to post a £14.6m profit in the 2017-18 accounts.

Gibson has threatened to launch legal action against Derby, and wants detailed club accounts to be available for independent scrutiny.

He has also called for offenders to be hit with much tougher penalties, including points deductions, in the season of the offence.

Derby have denied any wrongdoing, with Morris accusing Gibson of “hypocrisy” given Middlesbrough’s financial dealings in the past, but the Boro chairman is not about to let the matter lie.

Speaking at yesterday’s press conference to announce Jonathan Woodgate’s appointment as Middlesbrough’s new head coach, Gibson went back on the offensive, calling on the EFL to start taking their rules seriously.

“We have rules called Financial Fair Play, and off the pitch it’s important every rule (is followed),” he said. “If the rule is not going to be followed, (then) don’t have it. If the rule is there, if we have a centre-half who picks the ball up in the penalty area, then I don’t expect the referee to ignore it.

“If a player deceives the referee, I don’t expect that to be ignored. And I don’t expect the EFL and other clubs to ignore Financial Fair Play. It’s there, it’s a rule, it’s an important rule, it needs to be followed, and if it’s not followed, sanctions must be taken against those clubs that cheat.”

When asked directly if he thought some Championship clubs were currently cheating, he said: “Yes.”

Gibson is adamant Middlesbrough will not be bending the rules, but while the absence of any further parachute payments will have an inevitable impact on the club’s finances over the next 12 months, he disputes suggestions that money is tight.

Tony Pulis helped reduce the wage bull during his 18 months on Teesside, and there are likely to be further departures this summer once Woodgate gets to grips with his squad. There will also be new arrivals, though, with Gibson determined that Middlesbrough will remain competitive and push for promotion.

“When you say finances are tight, I’m not quite sure about that,” said Gibson. “But recruitment is the most unpredictable thing in football at the moment. It’s becoming more and more complex to get players in.

“In the old days, you’d ring up a player and do a deal, now some of them have two or three agents – the local vicar, the cat, the dog, it’s not easy and what you wish for and what you get are two very different things.

“I don’t have a crystal ball to predict that. But I think Jonathan and his coaching staff know where we’re short because we’ve had those discussions. We will work our socks off to bring players in, but those that we bring in have to be better than what we’ve got.”

Having overseen the recruitment process that culminated in Woodgate’s appointment, Gibson is delighted to have a born-and-bred Teessider in charge of the club. More importantly, however, he is confident he has appointed one of the best young coaches in the country.

“I’ve known Jonathan for a long time,” he said. “There’s something about him. He’s different, and when we’ve talked about the style of play, we’re totally aligned.”