6 games in, what have we learned?
So the marathon that is the Championship has begun and its certainly been a learning curve for Jonathan Woodgate in the early stages of the season.
You can see the transformation from a rigid Pulis drilled side to a more free-flowing attacking system isn’t going to happen overnight, but here are some of the key talking points early on into Woodgate’s reign.
Assombalonga looks set to have his best goal-scoring return
The £15 million Congolese international has never broken past the 15 goal mark during his time at Boro for a number of reasons, perhaps a lack of ruthlessness on his part occasionally and under Pulis the style of play not playing to his strengths.
Under Pulis, he was at points in and out of the side with Pulis preferring the presence of the hard-working Hugill. On top of that, Pulis never publicly backed Britt Assombalonga, instead rather use him as an example of Boro’s ineptness in the final third.
But this season he looks a lot happier under Woodgate, leading the line strongly but also looking more comfortable having more support around his in the shape of Fletcher, Johnson, Browne, and McNair from the centre of midfield.
Despite missing a penalty in the opening game against Luton Town, Woodgate refused to throw Assombalonga under the proverbial bus and instead backed his ability and his mental strength.
But overall, Britt Assombalonga looks like a man unshackled and reinvigorated and if he carries on the form he’s shown so far I fully expect him to get at least 20 league goals this season.
Issues at full back and centre back?
Coming into the season the defence needed addressing and in my opinion still needs reinforcements, Boro are still light in central defence with just Fry and Ayala being the only natural central defenders.
Shotton has played there before but has never looked convincing long term, and so far this season he still doesn’t look happy there as he does as a right back.
Friend can also fill in at centre back and that’s probably looking like his role for this season, with the emergence of Hayden Coulson.
Two of Woodgate’s four signings this summer have been in the full-back areas in Dijksteel and Bola from Charlton Athletic and Blackpool respectively, and two players he has earmarked even before he got the job (he presented them as part of his plans to Steve Gibson in his interview).
Both full-back signings so far, haven’t got going as of yet but early performances have been a little shaky with Dijksteel having a poor debut at Blackburn and Bola having a tricky time against Crewe in the cup.
Boro looked like a team that can score two or three goals against most sides in the division, but defensively we do look very porous especially against teams with good wingers.
Both of Bristol’s goals last weekend came from wide areas and crosses not being blocked or shut down fast enough and against Brentford and Luton, these channels were exposed quite often.
Is Wing suffering from second season syndrome?
Lewis Wing has been one of the most exciting and inspiring success stories not just for anyone aspiring to graduate from the academy, but for anyone in the lower leagues thinking their chance may have passed them by.
Bursting onto the scene last preseason with some virtuoso performances that were hard to ignore, he carried this on and become one of the first names on the team sheet last season with his range of passing, attacking play and his rocket of a right foot.
But, this season he has looked a little jaded so far, perhaps the effects of having to play a full season last year at the highest level he’s played at or maybe opposition managers have started to recognise his threat a little bit more.
Paddy McNair’s resurgence
I have a great deal of sympathy for Paddy McNair and what he’s had to endure with during his career so far. Being given a chance at Man United under Louis van Gaal only to have to play at centre half and being shoehorned as that even in training under van Gaal.
Then getting a move to Sunderland and finally getting a chance to play more in a no.10 or a box to box central midfield role, only to suffer from injuries and playing under the extreme pressure of a relegation dog fight.
The move to Boro should’ve ushered in a new fresh start and the chance to finally begin playing in his correct role, but as we know nothing is simple under Tony Pulis. Despite playing a system usually with three central midfielders, McNair was usually pushed into a right wing-back role.
But much like with the situation with Assombalonga, Woodgate has seen McNair as a key component in his 4-3-3 system supporting the attack from midfield.
- Is Britt Assombalonga’s time at Middlesbrough coming to an end?
- Lewis Wing’s future at Middlesbrough uncertain
So far, it would be hard to argue that McNair has probably been Boro’s best player in these early stages of the season, and it’s great to watch him back to his best.