Jonathan Woodgate: Why is Middlesbrough boss struggling?
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Last Updated: 24/11/19 11:31am
Jonathan Woodgate was appointed to revitalise Middlesbrough, but they find themselves in the Championship relegation zone. What has gone wrong?
We asked Teesside Live journalist Dominic Shaw, EFL pundit Don Goodman on the Sky Sports EFL Podcast and Boro fanzine (Fly Me To The Moon) writer Robert Nichols their thoughts on the situation at the Riverside Stadium...
What has gone wrong for Middlesbrough this season?
Dominic Shaw: There was an acceptance from the off that this was going to be a transitional season of change and patience was required, but nobody expected to be in this position at this stage.
The Achilles' heel from last year is still there in that they can't put the ball in the net. Woodgate wants to change the way Boro play and move away from the pragmatism of Tony Pulis but I don't think he was expecting it to be quite as difficult to do that as it's proved.
Don Goodman: Confidence is clearly on the floor. They have wanted to play this more expansive attack-minded football this season and so far they have really struggled to convert that into positive results.
Last season they were very solid defensively, but it's about them finding a way to win a game of football. In order to do that they've got to find a way to score goals. It's about getting the balance right, but it's also about getting the result in any which way you can.
Robert Nichols: Many, including Tony Pulis, point the finger firmly and squarely at the club gambling the whole parachute payments on a quick return to the Premier League. It has been such a difficult season for Boro fans. There might have been frustrations over the playing style under Pulis but at least we were pushing for promotion not threatening relegation.
Jonathan Woodgate might like to argue that the table lies and admittedly we haven't had the best of luck but our failings are easy for all to see, not least opposing managers. We struggle to score goals, an old problem that has resurfaced big style. Pair that up with an inability to keep clean sheets then you have a recipe for disaster.
Does the squad also have to take a share of the blame?
DS: The squad is thin and unbalanced. They really could have done with a couple of extra players through the door in the summer. Woodgate took over a squad that lost Martin Braithwaite, Stewart Downing, Aden Flint and John Obi Mikel, while loan duo Jordan Hugill and Mo Besic returned to their clubs.
Boro needed to cut costs and those players were replaced by three youngsters who spent last year in League One. This was always going to be a difficult make-over job for Woodgate, but that is not to say he's blameless. He will hold his hands up and say he's made mistakes in the first few months of the season, but his players are playing for him and performances of late have been better.
DG: If you look at that squad player for player, certainly the core 15-16 players in the squad, they have high quality at this level within that and a lot of experience, so it is a bit baffling at how it has gone so disastrously wrong.
RN: Confidence is low and there are further storm clouds on the horizon as almost half the first team are out of contract at the end of the season and will be offered reduced terms to stay. Not ideal for morale in a team trying to stave off relegation.
Jonathan Woodgate brought in three rookies from League One, full of potential but not ready to rip it up in the Championship. The new promised attacking; harrying style has floundered. Injuries have reduced the wafer-thin playing staff to the point where we had to recall a young loan striker Tyrone O'Neill from non-league Darlington. Times are hard.
Can Woodgate turn things around... and will he get the time to do it?
DS: He will. Nobody expected Boro to be in this position at this stage and obviously the winless run needs to be stopped. But there's no doubt from speaking to the players that Woodgate has them on his side. Performances have improved after the shambolic showings against Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham. But Boro - Woodgate - need results. That's the currency of the game. He knows that.
He will argue his side need to start putting the ball in the back of the net. I know that sounds ridiculously simplistic and there are obviously other issues to deal with but Boro are missing chances - sitters - every week. The switch to a wing-back system has worked and Boro look more comfortable and balanced. But improved displays need to start coughing up wins and points.
DG: They may not have been expecting to challenge at the very top of the Championship, but they certainly would not have been expecting to have been in a dogfight down at the bottom. If they are going to get out of this it will be at home where they need to pick up better points.
There are some big, big games coming their way, but they have got Hull, Barnsley and then Charlton coming up at the Riverside. They are going to have to turn it into a fortress.
RN: As you might imagine Boro fans are losing patience fast, yet there is also a feeling of not wanting to repeat past mistakes and axe another manager before Christmas.
We would like a period of stability and growth under Woodgate but we certainly cannot risk the prospect of relegation and the idea of joining Sunderland in League One. We simply have to start winning and these next two back to back home games could be make or break.