Joe Nicholson's verdict: Middlesbrough are making rapid progress despite late Derby equaliser
When Jonathan Woodgate was appointed Middlesbrough’s new head coach back in the summer, he spoke about getting fans on the edge of their seats.
Boro’s new blueprint to play an attacking, high-pressing style of football all sounded great during that first press conference back in June, yet it hasn’t always been pretty at the Riverside this season - even Woodgate has admitted that.
Yet one thing which has remained consistent during the Teessiders’ sticky spell is the positivity around Rockliffe Training Ground, as well as a desire to improve.
Now we are starting to see the results.
Boro may not have beaten Derby County on Saturday afternoon, but produced another excellent performance to make it 13 points from the last 15 available in the Championship.
Only a stunning stoppage-time volley from Rams midfielder Duane Holmes denied Woodgate’s side a fifth straight league win.
Operating in what looked like a 3-4-2-1 formation, with Marcus Tavernier and Patrick Roberts playing just behind Ashley Fletcher, Boro pressed from the front in the first half, forcing mistakes from Derby’s backline.
Roberts, who was making his first league appearance for Boro, particularly stood out with his direct runs at the Rams’ backline.
Boro have been crying out for a winger like that ever since the departure of Adama Traore, and while Roberts may not quite be at that level, he will certainly get fans excited.
Two other players who have helped transform this young side are wing-backs Hayden Coulson and Djed Spence.
The pair possess pace and energy to stretch opposition defences, and while their marauding runs may leave gaps at the back, Boro’s three-man rearguard helps to compensate.
Midfielder turned centre-back Jonny Howson also deserves a mention for another excellent display.
But for all the positives, the match ultimately finished in a draw.
As Woodgate pointed out, Derby went direct in the second half and caught the hosts out when Jason Knight’s cross flew over Aynsley Pears nine minutes after half-time.
Yet it’s a testament to this young Boro side that Derby, a team which had won their last three games, had to change their approach.
The late leveller was a real sickener, yet Boro continue to show signs of progress.