Middlesbrough skipper Gareth Southgate has insisted he and his team-mates do care about their plight amid a furious reaction to their 4-0 home defeat by Aston Villa at the weekend.
The 35-year-old, who a few weeks ago admitted there were problems within the camp, dismissed suggestions there is a lack of passion for the club among the players.
“I listen to football phone-ins on the way home from matches to find out what fans are thinking, and many of the calls were suggesting that the players don’t care about what happens,” he says in his programme notes for tonight’s FA Cup fourth round replay against Coventry.
“Anyone who saw the players’ faces in the dressing room after the game would have been aware just how much the display hurt our professional pride.
“Some players might show it on the field in more obvious ways, but it is there with everyone. A lack of concern is an easy accusation to throw at players but, while criticism is justified, I don’t feel that is the problem.
“Things are obviously wrong at the moment, but it is mistakes that are costing us rather than us not caring. Everyone has spent the last few days planning how we can turn things around.”
Southgate, Steve McClaren’s first signing as Boro boss, has been at the centre of the club’s rise in recent seasons, and he feels the disappointment of what has happened recently as acutely as anyone.
“There’s nothing more painful than losing at home – and to lose in the manner we did against Aston Villa was all the more difficult to take,” he says. “It was clearly a humiliating afternoon for everyone who is involved at the football club.
“Many fans were very vocal in their disappointment about the performance, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ask people for their support at the moment because results at home have been poor for so long.
“But we have to ask for that because I am convinced that it is confidence which is a problem at the moment and not a lack of effort on the part of the players and coaching staff.”