Joe Nicholson's verdict: Jonathan Woodgate's bold Middlesbrough selection call backfired in frustrating Wigan Athletic draw
Unlike a couple of months ago, Jonathan Woodgate has options when it comes to team selection.
Five new signings and an improving injury situation has made it difficult to predict Middlesbrough’s starting XI and formation in recent weeks. Tuesday’s meeting with Wigan was no different.
Woodgate made a bold call by staring Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Ravel Morrison in an attack-minded line up – yet perhaps on this occasion the Boro boss got it wrong.
From the outset it looked like the visitors were operating with a diamond in midfield, with George Saville at the base, Lewis Wing and Paddy McNair ahead of them and Morrison just behind the front two.
Woodgate saw it differently and when asked about his formation call, he said: "It wasn't a diamond it was more of a one sitting and two ahead with three up top.
“We need to try and win games at times by not staying with just one formation. We need to have plan As and plan Bs to try and beat teams."
The argument that teams need to adapt is fair enough and changing shape has worked for Boro in the past – at West Brom for example.
Even so, the Teessiders appear to have moved away from a productive system.
Djed Spence’s omission in the last two matches has seen Boro abandon the use of wing-backs which gave the side more width and security at the back.
Against a relegation-threatened Wigan side, the visitors looked vulnerable in wide areas as Latics full-backs Kal Naismith and Nathan Byrne exposed Boro’s narrow system.
That’s not to say Wigan were dominating, but few could complain when Samy Morsy put them ahead after some slack defending from the Teessiders.
Boro settled after that, yet this was the fifth Championship game in succession where they have conceded the first goal.
After a shaky start, Woodgate’s side took control in midfield, dominating possession with Saville keeping things ticking and Morrison dropping deep.
Yet up until Wing’s deflected free-kick in the 64th minute, Boro hadn’t registered a shot on target.
For most of the first half Boro’s set-up looked unbalanced as Fletcher and Assombalonga spent most of the game on the fringes.
Yet the dismissal of Wigan defender Chey Dunkley just after the hour mark gave the visitors a helping hand.
In truth it was a game which referee Oliver Langford lost control of, with the man in charge dishing out 11 yellow cards – including one to Wigan boss Paul Cook.
The home fans felt aggrieved, yet Boro also had a case that Fletcher’s disallowed goal for offside at 0-0 should have stood.
Still, after taking the lead through another Wing strike, his sixth goal of the season, Boro were in control with a man and goal advantage.
Like against Brentford last time out, though, Woodgate’s side conceded with less than 15 minutes to go and their game management once again came into question.
Despite some positive signs in between, a slow start and finish proved costly.