Joe Nicholson's verdict: Plenty to improve on but Middlesbrough fans can take huge positives from their action-packed draw at Luton
Jonathan Woodgate was halfway through his post-match media duties following Friday night’s 3-3 draw at Luton when his eye caught one of the TV screens inside Kenilworth Road.
The highlights reel had just reached the Hatters’ third goal, a late equaliser from James Collins. ‘Ahh’ uttered Boro’s head coach with a spring still in his step.
Still engrossed by the game, Woodgate hadn’t even noticed the waiting press pack sitting in the bar turned press room inside this season’s smallest Championship ground.
“Oh sorry lads,” said Woodgate when he noticed the waiting journalists, before eulogising about the contest we had just witnessed.
Woodgate’s passion and pride after taking charge of his first competitive game was palpable, as shown by his reaction on the touchline when Boro took the lead.
The travelling fans enjoyed it too. A total of 960, a sell-out, made the 440-mile round trip and could be heard throughout with chants of ‘Jonny Woodgate is a red.’
Of course it’s still early days and Woodgate knows there is still plenty to work on. Boro were vulnerable at the back and overrun in midfield for large spells in the first half.
Yet the excitement, the drama, the willingness to attack was refreshing, following a season which wasn’t exactly brimming with memorable moments.
Boro finished just a point outside the play-offs under Tony Pulis yet the chasm between the club and its supporters was growing by the week.
That’s not to say Pulis was resigned to failure. The Welshman had enormous respect for chairman Steve Gibson and takes huge pride in getting the job done with his tried and trusted formulas.
Yet those methods no longer seem to appeal to supporters or in fact players, who prefer to operate with the ball and play on the front foot.
Woodgate’s treatment of Britt Assombalonga, a player who Pulis questioned on multiple occasions, was also telling.
The striker missed a penalty which could have put the result beyond doubt, yet instead of heaping blame on the frontman, Woodgate backed his first-choice number nine to bounce back.
Players and fans alike have responded to the renewed enthusiasm and approach from their new head coach. Long may it continue.