Joe Nicholson's verdict: Jonathan Woodgate's new-look side is starting to take shape after Hartlepool win

That’s more like it. Four goals without reply, some clinical finishing and a decent cameo from Martin Braithwaite.

Monday, 15th July 2019, 4:45 pm
Updated Monday, 15th July 2019, 6:32 pm
Martin Braithwaite played 45 minutes against Hartlepool.

Middlesbrough are into the heart of their pre-season schedule following a convincing 4-0 win over Hartlepool on Sunday. Three friendlies down, three to go, and there were clear signs that things are beginning to click at the Super 6 Stadium.

Yes Boro were only playing a National League side and will face far tougher tests when the Championship campaign kicks-off on August 2.

But on a pleasant summer’s day on a well-maintained pitch, the intensity from both sides was high - the gap in quality clear to see.

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When the team sheet was announced an hour before kick-off, all eyes were drawn to the inclusion of Martin Braithwaite as the Dane was handed his first Boro appearance since December 1.

The forward spent the opening exchanges on the fringes but showed his class and quality when he did receive the ball.

A probing cross-field pass to Jonny Howson in the first half started the move which led to Boro’s second goal, which finished with a powerful header from Rudy Gestede. It was a glimpse of what Braithwaite can bring to this new-look side.

Head coach Jonathan Woodgate has made it clear he wants to play with a 4-3-3 system this season, a shape which looks more like 4-1-4-1 when Boro lose the ball.

The early signs suggest Adam Clayton is a perfect fit for the holding midfield role, which requires the 30-year-old to receive the ball in deep areas and look to get Boro on the attack.

Ahead of him, the other two midfielders should be given more licence to get forward than under the previous regime, as shown by George Saville’s late arrival into the penalty area to add Boro’s fourth goal.

Several of Boro’s younger players also impressed against Pools, with left-back Hayden Coulson, goalkeeper Aynsley Pears and winger Marcus Tavernier all taking their chances to impress.

After a goal and an assist, Tavernier has a real opportunity to nail down one of the wide positions in Woodgate’s starting XI.

There were certainly signs at the weekend that the side is starting to take shape.