Are Boro being brave to stick by Woodgate?
Sacking season is well underway in the Championship with three of the bottom four clubs wielding the axe, but Jonathan Woodgate has, so far, survived the cull.
Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson made the bold claim that Woodgate was the “outstanding candidate” when he was interviewed for the head coach’s role in the summer after Tony Pulis’ 18-month reign came to an end.
This, despite reports Slavisa Jokanovic, who had guided both Watford and Fulham to Championship promotion, had also been up to Teesside for job talks.
It appeared that handing the job to a 39-year-old, who had no previous managerial experience, was an immense risk, especially at a time that when several older heads such as Stewart Downing, Aden Flint and Job Obi Mikel departed for pastures new.
They have been replaced with players Woodgate knew from his time with the Academy, while a modest amount was spent to sign West Ham’s Marcus Browne and full-back duo Anfernee Dijksteel and Marc Bola from Charlton and Blackpool respectively.
With the parachute payments now gone and Financial Fair Play rules to adhere to, Boro were to an extent forced to cut their cloth accordingly.
On top of replacing experienced campaigners with players untried at Championship level, Woodgate also vowed to bring a new attacking identity to the club as he looked to break the safety-first shackles of Pulis’ era.
It looked a very ambitious move by the club and new boss, but the early indications were positive as Boro showed glimpses that they were getting to grips with the manager’s demand for a new exciting brand of football.
However, following on from the early-season optimism, the mood is turning as dark as the incoming autumnal mornings on Teesside.
Lengthy injuries to club captain George Friend and impressive young left-back Hayden Coulson have given Woodgate a headache.
The summer recruits have failed to find their feet at a higher level, with Bola in particular becoming a target of the fans’ ire after being exposed in the recent 4-1 drubbing against Sheffield Wednesday.
Boro shipped four goals in the opening 35 minutes of that game at the Riverside Stadium and Bola was replaced at half-time.
The more experienced Ryan Shotton has since been played out of position on the left side of defence and looked as equally out-of-sorts the following week in the 2-1 defeat at Birmingham.
'Jonathan Woodgate’s summer pledge to restore attacking football following the drudgery of the Tony Pulis era appears easier said than done'https://t.co/snzc3gDOkL
— Gazette Boro (@GazetteBoro) October 5, 2019
Again a Boro team that was built on solid foundations in the Pulis and Aitor Karanka eras looked shambolic as a Blues’ side that had lost three games going into the St Andrew’s Friday night showdown were only denied a deserved five-goal haul by the superb goalkeeping of Darren Randolph.
Boro have gone into the international break fifth from bottom and two points above the relegation places.
Woodgate’s promise of exciting, attacking football has yielded 11 goals in as many games, while 16 have been conceded at the other end.
Barnsley, Reading and Huddersfield are immediately below Boro and have all sacked their managers in the past month.
Nathan Jones at bottom club Stoke seemed resigned to the sack a week ago but was given a stay of execution after the Potters won 2-1 at Swansea on Saturday.
There are no signs that Boro will follow suit as Steve Gibson looks like he will keep the faith for as long as possible.
The fans always anticipated a season of struggle, but an improvement in playing style, a mid-table finish and signs of a bright future would have been accepted by the majority.
But the current feeling among the natives is Boro are now facing a serious battle to avoid relegation to League One and are hoping Gibson does not leave it too long before acting.
The chairman has not escaped flak from the supporters, many of whom claim he took the cheap option appointing Woodgate and then failed to back him in the transfer market.
The boss admitted after the summer window that Boro could be in “big trouble” if a couple of injuries crop up between now and January.
That is now coming home to roost and there does not appear to be any signs of things turning around after a dismal couple of performances.
Championship leaders West Brom are up next after the international break, while Boro have a trip to face an improving Huddersfield side under new boss Danny Cowley and a visit of Fulham before the end of the month.
There is a very real possibility that the Teessiders could start November in the bottom three and the calls for change will be deafening.