Can Woodgate stop Boro sliding into the abyss?
Background image: Dave Pickersgill , CC BY 2.0
Before the season started I wrote a piece asking if Jonathan Woodgate was the right man for Middlesbrough. It's fair to say the 39-year-old has endured a torrid first three months in charge. The question is, can the former centre-back turn things around on Teesside?
Honestly, over the summer I felt like Woodgate taking over at Middlesbrough was a reasonable choice as they looked to start a rebuild following the sacking of Tony Pulis - who had largely been an unpopular manager amongst supporters.
As the old saying goes, start as you mean to go on. During their Championship opener, Britt Assombalonga missed a penalty late on which would have put 'Boro 4-2 up. Instead, the 26-year-old would miss the spot-kick and the game would finish in a 3-3 draw following a last gasp goal. Things haven't gone any better since.
Last week, Middlesbrough's draw at home to Fulham saw them drop into the relegation zone, then Woodgate's men fell to another, losing 2-0 to Derby County on Saturday. While it's clear Woodgate wants his team to play a free-flowing style of football, the former centre-back has been unable to turn this into positive results. Simply put, it may be a case of not having the right players to fit his ideologies.
In 2018/19, Boro had high expectations. With Pulis at the helm, there was much talk of promotion. However, the Teessiders fell short which led to the Welshman losing his job. Boro weren't expected to push for a top-six finish this year as it was seen as a rebuilding campaign, but Woodgate has this side in trouble and he needs to turn things around, quickly...
Two games sum it up perfectly. First, they travelled to fellow struggles Huddersfield Town and were the better side throughout. Unfortunately, though, Boro were unable to convert their chances and were held to a 0-0 draw. The drab result didn't do either side any favours.
This was followed by another 0-0 draw, this time at home to Fulham. On paper, it might not look a bad result against a team who are amongst the division's top scorers. However, after Fulham’s goalkeeper, Marek Rodaks, was sent off for handling outside the area, Boro had over 70 minutes against ten men but barely created a decent opening. Subsequently, the players were booed off by fans at the Riverside.
What's somewhat confusing is that Woodgate has openly explained his happiness with the majority of Boro's performances, but it's wins (and points) that's needed right now. Having won just two league games, Boro are in serious danger of facing the dreaded drop. The former captain still believes he has the backing from his chairman Steve Gibson, who is renowned for always giving managers time. Woodgate's position probably isn't under pressure just yet, but the ex-Real Madrid centre-half better start turning things around soon...
If Gibson is to send out a defiant message, making funds available for Woodgate to spend in the January transfer market would make sense - particularly as during the summer there was no money available and the 39-year-old had to work with the players already at the club. With some being let go, it has led to an increased number of young players coming through. Although that's all well and good, and Woodgate has been more than willing to hand these guys opportunities, it doesn't guarantee positive results.
Scoring more goals has to sit atop the list of priorities, as Boro have only scored eleven in fifteen. Sure, we're only in November, but it does feel as though the Teessiders are sinking into the abyss right now. Perhaps what this squad needs is an injection of a few quality players, but they have to make it to January first - which is still a long way away...