Middlesbrough FC Q&A: Jonathan Woodgate's future, January transfer window and side's tactics assessed
Middlesbrough boss Jonathan Woodgate came under scrutiny on Friday night following his side’s 2-1 defeat at Birmingham City.
In a special Q&A, our Boro writer Joe Nicholson assesses the club’s disappointing start to the season and what’s next for the Teessiders.
Is Jonathan Woodgate under pressure?
As Woodgate said following the Birmingham defeat, there was pressure on him as soon as he took the job.
A few bad results can change the mood at any club and, up until the Sheffield Wednesday defeat three games ago, Boro had been in every match this season.
Yes, the games against Wednesday and Birmingham were very concerning and, from the outside looking in, it probably looks like Boro are significantly underachieving.
The club spent a lot of money a couple of seasons ago and finished just a point outside the play-offs last season, which is probably why Woodgate was asked about his future during a Sky Sports interview on Friday night.
However, those following the club will know that Woodgate’s appointment was suppose to be a long-term project and Boro can no longer spend money like they did in the summer of 2017.
Woodgate isn’t blameless for Boro’s disappointing start to the season, yet he’s right when he says it’s too early to push the panic button.
Besides, can you really say he’s been given a fair shot after just 11 league games?
Are Boro going to be in a relegation battle this season?
It’s not out of the question and one thing Boro can’t do is think they are too good to go down.
Look at what happened to Sunderland a couple of years ago, while Ipswich dropped like a stone following the departure of Mick McCarthy last season.
The Championship is getting stronger year on year and Boro can’t be naive if they do get sucked in, especially as some clubs will have been prepared for a relegation dogfight at the start of the season.
On paper, Boro’s side may appear better than others in the Championship but, as we know, the squad isn’t very big and a couple of injuries to key players could put Boro in real trouble.
Will Boro have money to spend in January? – We know that Boro wanted to make at least one more signing in the summer which suggests there are funds available.
Chairman Steve Gibson said he would back Woodgate following the club’s appointment back in June - since then Boro have made four signings who were identified by their new head coach.
Woodgate said a couple of weeks ago that Boro will no longer be able to sign players in the region of £5-10million, and the recent spending cutbacks due to financial fair play have been evident.
Like in the summer, it looks like the club will be looking at players valued further towards the £2million bracket, which is what they reportedly spent on full-back Anfernee Dijksteel from Charlton.
Even so, Boro did bring in £4million, excluding add-ons, after the sale of Aden Flint to Cardiff and recently offloaded one of their highest earners in Martin Braithwaite.
Loan deals must also be under consideration, and Woodgate has said he’s already identified the players he wants to sign in January.
That suggests Boro will be bringing players in when the window reopens and, let’s be honest, they need to with the squad as thin as it is.
Why aren’t we seeing the attacking and high-pressing football which Woodgate talked about in the summer? – In the 11 league games so far we’ve seen signs that Woodgate is trying to change Boro’s style of play.
In the first few games of the season, against Luton and Brentford, Boro looked far more potent as an attacking force, pressing the opposition high up the field, yet that has been less obvious in recent weeks.
I put that observation to Woodgate before the Birmingham game, to which he replied: “Just because I have my philosophy on how I want to play I do still want to play like that and at times we can do it, at times we can't do it and we need to pick and choose when we can do it.”
He also talked about the identity of the opposition and how it’s difficult to press teams who play direct.
During the Birmingham game, you could see Woodgate was gesturing to his players to push higher up the pitch, and he admitted afterwards his side sat far too deep.
At St Andrew’s it looked like Boro were caught in two minds between trying to push forward and shoring things up at the back. They looked well short at both ends of the pitch.
Is this group of players underachieving? – With the players they have available, there’s no question that Boro shouldn’t be sitting 20th in the table with just two wins to their name.
The squad isn’t that much different to the one which finished just a point outside the play-offs last season and there’s still plenty of proven Championship players there.
The players must also shoulder some of the blame for the club’s poor start to the campaign.