Joe Nicholson's verdict: Signs of progress under Jonathan Woodgate yet surprising statistics highlight spluttering start

It was certainly more reassuring – not the finished article by any means yet Boro’s 1-1 draw with Preston North End marked an admirable response following Saturday’s horror show.

Wednesday, 2nd October 2019, 2:27 pm
Middlesbrough boss Jonathan Woodgate.

Jonathan Woodgate can’t have enjoyed his side’s 4-1 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and some will have argued cracks were starting to appear.

But, while Tuesday’s result made it just two wins in ten league games for the Teessiders this season, there was at least some cause for optimism after this display.

It may not seem that way to some supporters, and there was some cynicism when the club’s official Twitter account posted: ‘A step in the right direction’ after the match.

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After years of competing for promotion in the Championship, it may take a while for expectations to align.

Boro have taken a different direction under Woodgate, who, despite admitting he may have to tweak things, has always insisted he will stick to his beliefs.

In terms of stats, though, Boro’s attacking numbers aren’t too dissimilar compared to when Tony Pulis was in charge last season.

In their ten league games under Woodgate, Boro have averaged a total of 10.7 shots per game, compared to 11.4 under his predecessor.

The Teessiders’ expected goals total has also deteriorated from 1.31 goals per game under Pulis to 0.8 per game under Woodgate.

Stats don’t always tell the whole story, though, and one thing which does seem more apparent this season is that players are being allowed to express themselves.

That has been evident with Paddy McNair, who has been Boro’s standout performer this season and impressed with his forward runs from midfield.

Woodgate also resisted the temptation to revert to a back three against Preston, after his side’s defence was well and truly breached at the weekend.

Instead, wingers Marcus Tavernier and Marcus Browne took their opportunities to impress and justified their selections in a 4-3-3 set-up.

The pair were a threat throughout and, while Preston saw more of the ball, Boro created the better chances on the break.

That may not completely convince some supporters who want their side to dominate games. Even so, as Woodgate pointed out, this was a step in the right direction.