Boro defender Ben Gibson is going to be a top player says Jonathan Woodgate

PROSPECT: Ben Gibson. Picture by FRANK REID
PROSPECT: Ben Gibson. Picture by FRANK REID

BEN Gibson is showing his class and is going to develop into a top player.

Those were the encouraging words of his partner in the Boro back line Jonathan Woodgate.

The experienced Woodgate marshalled Middlesbrough’s defence alongside Gibson during the 0-0 draw with Blackburn at the weekend, the eighth Boro shut-out in the last 10 games.

Gibson has forced his way into the first-team fold this season after impressing on loan at Tranmere Rovers last year and is above Seb Hines and Chelsea loanee Kenneth Omeruo in the pecking order.

But Woodgate hasn’t been one bit surprised by Gibson’s impressive development into a key squad member.

“Ben’s great,” said the 34-year-old, who skippered the side on Saturday.

“He’s going to be a top player.

“I thought he was outstanding on Saturday. He won every ball in the air, his talking was outstanding.

“Him, Muzzy (Carayol) and George (Friend) were our best players on Saturday.”

After leaking goals earlier in the season, Aitor Karanka made it his first job to tighten up Boro’s back-line.

But Woodgate said the full team deserves credit for their ever-improving defensive record, not just the players who make up the back five.

“We’re defending well as a team,” he said.

“I’ve said that recently, when we concede goals everyone blames defenders, it’s the team and you see when you press high it’s miles better.

“It’s not just defenders who get clean sheets, it’s midfielders and attackers because they set it off.

“When we concede goals everyone blames defenders but it’s not the case.”

The silky stopper was back in Boro’s starting XI for the first time since Boxing Day on Saturday.

Despite three consecutive clean sheets, Karanka has been forced to change his pack over recent weeks with Rhys Williams and then Daniel Ayala picking up injuries –making the defensive record even more impressive, says Woodgate.

“To be fair it’s whoever plays,” he said.

“If Kenneth (Omeruo) plays, if Jozsef (Varga) plays, if I play, Rhys (Williams), Gibbo, whoever plays we seem to be keeping clean sheets, it’s good.

“If we keep doing that, not conceding, we’ll go far, every good team is based on keeping clean sheets.

The former England defender isn’t worried about the team’s current lack of goals at the other end of the pitch and said all of Boro’s attack minded players are capable of threatening sides.

And he said the 12th-placed side will continue to fight for a play-off spot until it is mathematically beyond them.

“Playing catch up is really hard,” said Woody (pictured).

“There are that many teams in front of us, we’ve left it late, really late but listen, you don’t give up and there’s a chance the way we’re playing at the minute.

“If we keep getting chances we’ll score, it’s (the play-offs) not out of reach.”