Stick or twist for Woodgate?
Boro go into the international break having won one from their opening six league games and while there are constant reminders that implementing a new system takes time, there are question marks over Jonathan Woodgate’s approach.
There have been suggestions about Boro ‘finding a way to win’ – as Tony Mowbray put it – and suggestions that maybe the system won’t get results until the club has had an overhaul of their playing squad.
So, should Woodgate stick with the system he is trying to implement or abandon that and adopt a more defensive approach to get promoted?
Aitor Karanka said that his start at Boro was the biggest challenge as he – like Woodgate – had won just one of his opening five games and was questioning whether he needed to change his approach to get results.
He didn’t, though, he stuck with what he believed and Boro saw the benefit in the long-term as they eventually went on to secure Premier League football under the Spaniard. For that reason, Woodgate must persist with his philosophy.
There have been doubts about the personnel at the boss’s disposal but the 2-2 draw with Bristol City showed there can, and will, be success with the current system. A couple of lapses in concentration at the back were the only thing responsible for Boro not leaving Ashton Gate with all three points.
It was somewhat of a makeshift backline too. Jonny Howson and Hayden Coulson would’ve surely started at full-back had they been fit, while you’d imagine Woodgate has Daniel Ayala or George Friend in mind to partner Dael Fry in the middle.
Once we see a full-strength, in form backline, the clean sheets will come and Boro will be much stronger, as they have been for the previous five or so years. A fully fit partnership of Ayala and Fry would be the envy of most in the division and they should ease the pressure on Darren Randolph.
The game was encouraging as the pieces seem to be coming together. Paddy McNair, again, ran the show while the front three, Britt Assombalonga in particular, impressed and Adam Clayton showed flashes of his quality.
The only disappointing display was Lewis Wing but he still doesn’t look fit, so the international break may have come at a good time for him.
While it would be easy to revert to type and change the system, that’s not going to suit Boro in the long-term. Promotion is highly unlikely this season so fans would almost certainly take a mid-table finish if it meant the players became accustomed to the philosophy and could mount a challenge next season with recruitment.
The rigid style doesn’t work, we show that last season under Pulis. Chopping and changing is no good either, as Garry Monk’s time at the club exhibited. He couldn’t settle on a system, changed it weekly and was sacked after just six months in the job. A statistic very uncharacteristic of Middlesbrough Football Club under Steve Gibson.
There are going to be challenges this season, and there will be frustrations when things don’t go Boro’s way, but time and patience are key.