How sustainable is Middlesbrough's use of wing-backs after West Brom Albion switch?
When asked about his side’s change of shape following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to West Brom, Jonathan Woodgate gave a honest response.
“I think it suits our players,” said the Boro boss, before admitting his preferred 4-3-3 set-up “wasn't bearing fruit.”
After all the hype about playing attacking, high-press football in the summer, the need for results have become far greater on Teesside and Woodgate knows it.
Boro have looked far more solid when playing with a back three and wing-backs this campaign, but is the system sustainable and how long will they persist with it?
The Teessiders first switched to a back three in the second half of their 1-0 win over Wigan in August, one of the few occasions they’ve been able to close out a victory this season.
It was a similar story during the Teessiders’ narrow win over Reading a month later, their only other other win this campaign.
Yes there have been times when the 4-3-3 system has shown signs working, the 2-2 draw at Bristol City and 3-3 draw at Luton quickly spring to mind.
However, on the flip side, Boro looked like conceding at every attack during the 4-1 hammering to Sheffield Wednesday and a sombre evening at Birmingham earlier this month.
One of the glaring issues was Boro’s shortage on the flanks, particularly at full-back, where new arrivals Anfernee Dijksteel and Marc Bola, 22 and 21 respectively, have struggled to step up to the Championship.
Both have dropped out of the side in recent weeks with Jonny Howson and Marvin Jonhson plugging the gaps at wing-back.
Boro’s lack of natural wingers has also made it difficult to execute Woodgate’s summer strategy, meaning Ashley Fletcher had to operate as an inverted striker at the start of the campaign.
So will the Teessiders have to operate with wing-backs until the January transfer window when they have the change to sign reinforcements?
While George Friend will remain sidelined for another few weeks, the return of Hayden Coulson will at least give Boro another option regardless of what formation they play.
Still, with the Teessiders just a point above the relegation zone, Woodgate will need a system which can yield results.