Joe Nicholson's verdict: Jonathan Woodgate's inexperience showed at Leeds yet Middlesbrough boss isn't solely to blame
It wasn’t that long ago that Middlesbrough were just seconds away from beating Leeds United – a late equaliser in the 11th minute of stoppage-time rescued a point for the Whites at the Riverside in the second half of last season. How quickly things can change.
Back then, on February 9, Boro and the Whites were both fighting for promotion from the Championship. Now they look chasms apart, with the Teessiders treading water at the opposite end of the table.
Saturday’s 4-0 victory for Marcelo Bielsa’s men highlighted the gulf in quality between the two sides – even if Boro had several players unavailable through injury or suspension.
It was men against boys – literally, when the visitors were forced to bring on Ben Liddle and Tyrone O’Neill for their senior debuts.
Last season Boro shackled Leeds both home and away to earn two draws under Tony Pulis, yet a repeat never looked possible here.
Would Boro have snatched a result under Pulis? They would have stood a better chance, yet Leeds are a rampant force right now and are striding forward under Bielsa’s leadership.
Despite the one-sided scoreline, it always looked like the hosts had more gears to unlock, with playmakers Jack Harrison, Pablo Hernandez, Mateusz Klich and Helder Costa rotating fluently behind Patrick Bamford.
At the other end, it was like Boro had brought a knife to a gun fight, as Britt Assombalonga, who was visibly carrying an injury, and Ashley Fletcher scrapped around. The links between the visitors’ forward line and midfield were faint.
Woodgate is an inexperienced coach who is learning on the job and, during arguably the toughest test of the season, it showed.
Boro were regularly outnumbered and consistently bypassed in the middle of the park as Bielsa’s dynamic side tore through the Teessiders.
Yet to make Woodgate the scapegoat in this situation is unfair. Boro have lost many senior players and are weaker since Pulis’ departure in the summer.
Adam Clayton aside, their outfield substitutes had just three Championship appearance between them before kick-off.
At the start of the season, the plan was for Woodgate to learn on the job – yet this is a difficult environment for a developing coach.