Final Score: Middlesbrough 2 Charlton Athletic 2

FOR a brief period in the build up to Saturday's game, Middlesbrough supporters were able to revel in the glories of the past.

It was the seventh anniversary of the club's unforgettable UEFA Cup semi-final win over Steaua Bucharest, surely the greatest game in Middlesbrough's history, and the guest of honour on the pitch was Juninho, the beaming Brazilian regularly voted as the club's greatest ever player.

Twenty-nine seconds later, however, and the dispiriting reality of the present set in. Bradley Pritchard's first-minute strike provided the perfect summation of a campaign that has careered from promise to farce in the space of four thoroughly miserable months.

True, Boro clawed back a two-goal deficit to claim a draw, but the audible sighs of relief that accompanied the final whistle had little to do with Scott McDonald's point-saving 87th-minute header.

More likely, they were supporters expressing satisfaction that their Riverside torment is at an end. The purgatory of the last few weeks, when the faithful were surely turning out more through blind devotion than any expectation of enjoyment, is over for at least a few months.

The hardiest of the hardy will travel to Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday for a final dose of masochism, but the majority can now draw a line under a season that has imploded spectacularly. Few, if any, will mourn its passing.

“I understand the frustrations,” said Mowbray, who watched most of his players swap the traditional post-match lap of honour for an almost embarrassed wave from the sanctity of the centre-circle in the wake of the full-time whistle. “We built an expectation in the first half of the season, and let people down in the second by not maintaining or living up to it.

“That wasn't through any one reason – we've talked a lot about the multitude of things that have come together to bring us to where we are. There are teams in all of the leagues who have been unable to sustain their good runs. It's our responsibility to analyse the reasons why it's happened to us and make sure we put them right.”

That period of reflection has already begun, with Mowbray due to contact Chelsea, Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest later today to officially curtail the loan periods of Josh McEachran, Sammy Ameobi and Ishmael Miller respectively.

The trio will not be returning next season – unless Miller suddenly becomes available on vastly reduced terms – and Mowbray will spend the next week determining the fate of those coming to the end of their deals.

Stephen McManus, Kieron Dyer and Nicky Bailey are set to follow Julio Arca out of the door, and just as Boro's loan players were ignored, it was telling that none of the trio were involved in Saturday's game either.

A new squad will emerge, and while money remains tight with next year's wage bill set to be no higher than the current figure of around £16m, incomings are expected. Mowbray had a taxi booked for 3am yesterday morning to enable him to make an early-morning flight for a scouting mission.

There will be two key priorities when it comes to this summer's signing policy, with the first relating to the capture of what Mowbray terms “durable professionals”, players who will be expected to play in the majority of matches. After a season of constant change, the Boro boss appears to have accepted that stability is sometimes desirable.

The Northern Echo: Juninho
Juninho, right, with chief executive Neil Bausor at the Riverside

The other main ambition will be to strengthen a defence that has malfunctioned on far too many occasions this season. Saturday's first-half collapse was hardly out of keeping with the majority of Middlesbrough's displays since the turn of the year, and improvements are clearly required.

Jonathan Woodgate's injury issues means he cannot be relied upon, Seb Hines is already scheduled to miss the start of next season, and Andre Bikey is an accident waiting to happen, such is his constant desire to embark on ill-conceived dribbles out of defence.

“The dressing room knows that the standards have to be higher next year in everything we do,” said Mowbray. “We have to keep way more clean sheets and defend a lot better. We know what the requirement is, whether we can put it all together and the group can find a stronger mentality remains to be seen.”

Boro's defending in the first half of Saturday's game was wretched, and after Pritchard opened the scoring, Charlton doubled their lead when Rhys Williams deflected Yann Kermorgant's volley past Jason Steele.

The visitors should also have had a first-half penalty, but Middlesbrough were finally roused from their slumbers when McDonald and Emmanuel Ledesma were introduced nine minutes after the break.

Marvin Emnes clawed a goal back when he prodded home Grant Leadbitter's floated cross at the front post, and McDonald claimed a point when he converted Mustapha Carayol's corner with three minutes left.

“We were very conscious this was our last home game and we wanted to finish strongly,” said Mowbray. “The first half was very difficult, but we recovered and got a point.”

All in all, a suitably underwhelming way in which to sign off for the summer.