SO much for the ‘golden thread’, then. When Jonathan Woodgate was unveiled as Middlesbrough’s new head coach last summer, beaming at Rockliffe Park as he sat alongside Steve Gibson, Neil Bausor and Adrian Bevington, who has also long-since departed, the talk was of a fundamental shift in the club’s approach.

No more short-term thinking or knee-jerk reactions. No more careering from one footballing philosophy to the next. No more chopping and changing managers, with the inevitable upheaval and lack of continuity that caused. No. Middlesbrough were going to be different. Woodgate would be given time to grow and develop – the mistakes of the Gareth Southgate experiment were not going to be played out again.

If only reality had not got in the way. A year and nine days after he was appointed as Middlesbrough manager, a moment he described as “the proudest of his life”, Woodgate has been sacrificed on the pyre of footballing expediency. It is all very well having lofty ideals about an ethos and identity running through the club. It is somewhat harder to stick to those principles when you are on the brink of plunging into League One.

That was the stark scenario staring Gibson in the face as he watched Saturday’s capitulation at the hands of Swansea City, a performance so bereft of organisation and tactical intelligence that it set alarm bells ringing throughout the front row of the Riverside’s socially-distanced directors’ box.

Middlesbrough’s chairman had toyed with the idea of changing manager in December, but results improved, Boro’s league position altered and it was decided to hold firm. Six months on, and with the Teessiders back to within a place of the relegation zone with eight games to go, it was quickly decided that inaction was no longer an option.

Boro’s latest managerial experiment has failed, and just as Tony Pulis was brought in to sift through the wreckage of the ill-fated Garry Monk era, so Neil Warnock, another experienced firefighter with countless salvage jobs on his CV, finds himself tasked with stemming the bleeding of a club in crisis. If you include his first managerial stint at Gainsborough Trinity and a caretaker spell at QPR, this will be the 71-year-old’s 18th managerial position. It is safe to say that Gibson’s number one priority is no longer planning for the long term.

Was Woodgate found wanting or was he placed in an impossible situation? As ever with these things, it was probably a bit of both.

There is no doubt that Middlesbrough is a changed club to the one that was embarking on a series of European adventures a decade or so ago, and the squandering of the parachute payments that followed in the wake of 2017’s relegation means things have moved on again since even the days of Aitor Karanka.

Last summer, as Woodgate was feeling his way into management, Boro waved goodbye to a host of senior players. Martin Braithwaite went, and would eventually turn up at Barcelona. John Obi Mikel and Stewart Downing were released, Mo Besic and Jordan Hugill disappeared at the end of their loans. Aden Flint left last summer, Darren Randolph also departed in January.

In their place, Boro signed Anfernee Dijskteel, Marc Bola and Marcus Browne on cut-price deals from League One. The fact that two members of that trio ended the season on loan deals back in the third tier highlights just how disastrously the club recruited.

Woodgate insisted from the word go that he wanted to put his faith in youth and was not afraid to turn to players with little or no experience of the Championship, but in truth, he did not have much choice. No longer receiving parachute payments, but still saddled with a host of expensive contracts that had been signed in either the Premier League era or the summer immediately after relegation, Boro have been forced to cut their cloth. As a result, Woodgate has found himself working with a squad that has glaring deficiencies in a number of key areas. It is also not his fault that so many senior players are due to reach the end of their contract next week, a situation that has inevitably proved unsettling.

And yet, as he reflects on his unsuccessful managerial baptism, Woodgate will also surely concede that he has made mistakes.

Perhaps the most damaging came right at the start of his reign, when he assembled a backroom team with precious little coaching experience at first-team level. The choice of Robbie Keane as his assistant was a strange one given the seemingly obvious need for an experienced sounding-board alongside him, and it is hard to discern what the former Republic of Ireland international added in amongst his punditry appearances on Sky Sports.

Initially, there were suggestions that Steve Round would be returning to Rockliffe Hall, and there was also sporadic talk of Steve McClaren being appointed to work alongside Woodgate in a director of football-type role. Either figure would have provided the kind of guidance and expertise that was so badly required.

The season started in a reasonably-positive fashion, with a 3-3 draw at Luton Town showcasing the kind of vibrant, attacking football Woodgate had been promising throughout pre-season, but things quickly took a turn for the worse.

Boro spent most of the first half of the season in and around the bottom three, with September’s 4-1 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday proving especially harrowing, and Woodgate’s position was hanging by a thread in the wake of November’s four-goal hiding at Leeds.

However, things improved over Christmas – the high-point of Woodgate’s reign was undoubtedly the back-to-back away wins at West Brom and Preston either side of New Year – and it looked like a corner had been turned.

That proved illusory, and by the spring, Woodgate had abandoned his previous faith in his young players, overhauled his tactics by dismantling his five-man defence and started selecting the kind of strange starting line-ups that ended up alienating a large proportion of the fans.

Why was Djed Spence suddenly cast into the shadows? Why did Hayden Coulson suddenly start appearing as an attacking midfielder? What did Britt Assombalonga have to do to get a starting spot? What did Lukas Nmecha have to do to get dropped?

It all felt chaotic and unplanned, as if Woodgate was abandoning all of his previous principles in a desperate attempt to stumble upon a formula that might produce a couple of wins. At the start of the season, while it had been possible to quibble about results and performances, at least there was a sense of Woodgate working towards something. Suddenly, all of that had disappeared. Not only did the Boro boss not appear to know what his best team was – he didn’t seem to know what he wanted it to look like either.

Saturday’s first half against Swansea was a shambles – Woodgate’s team selection was once again impossible to fathom – and ultimately, it sealed his fate.

Warnock travelled to the North-East on Monday afternoon, discussed the situation with Gibson that evening, and was confirmed as Woodgate’s successor this morning. He will take charge of training for the first time this afternoon, and will be in the dug-out when Boro travel to Stoke City’s Bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Will he keep the Teessiders out of the bottom three? His track record in the Championship suggests he should have a fighting chance, although time is hardly on his side with just eight games to go. The next two, against Stoke and Hull, are likely to be crucial.

Beyond that, he could well be retained for next season if his initial mission is successful, although all parties insist nothing has been decided at this stage.

Woodgate is set to be offered a role on Boro’s backroom staff, and as Southgate’s career trajectory proves, failing in your first managerial job at Middlesbrough is not necessarily a barrier to bigger and better things in the future.

Woodgate could still prove a success at some stage, but for Boro, the priority is the present. Once again, short-termism is the name of the game. Having become frayed over the course of the last few months, the ‘golden thread’ has finally snapped.