Joe Nicholson's verdict: Middlesbrough faced a familiar problem in pre-season Gateshead win

On paper Middlesbrough’s trip to Gateshead may have seemed like a mismatch.

Thursday, 11th July 2019, 5:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 11th July 2019, 5:41 pm
Ashley Fletcher scored Middlesbrough's second goal against Gateshead.

Buoyed by the appointment of new head coach Jonathan Woodgate, Boro travelled to the International Stadium to face a side who were fretting over their existence just a few weeks ago.

Yet the football pitch can sometimes act as a great leveller, and despite the Teessiders’ 3-1 victory over Mike Williamson’s Heed side, it wasn’t all plain sailing.

Despite Woodgate’s plan to promote the club’s youth prospects, Boro started the game with eight senior players from last season – out of the three who weren’t, left-back Patrick Reading and midfielder Stephen Wearne were two of the most impressive players on the night.

Boro dominated possession for large spells against Gateshead but struggled to break their opponents down when the hosts sat deep.

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It’s something which was problematic last season, with Boro often lacking the killer pace or a piece of skill to make a breakthrough. Woodgate is well aware of the issue and is determined to put it right.

Eventually the goals came, a defensive mix-up led to Jonny Howson’s opener before Ashley Fletcher restored Boro’s lead midway through the second half.

Marvin Johnson added a third with a fine strike, yet it’s clear there’s still plenty to work on.

Woodgate is keen for his side to keep the ball and pass out from the back, yet the centre-back pairing of Aden Flint and Ryan Shotton didn’t look entirely comfortable in possession.

At the other end Ashley Fletcher found himself on the fringes for large spells, the Teessiders still unable to find the elusive link between midfield and attack.

It should also be noted that Boro still aren’t at full strength, and the likes of Martin Braithwaite, who was nursing a thigh injury, and Britt Assombalonga should make a difference in the final third.

Still, after two games, it is clear to see the changes Woodgate is trying to make, setting his side up in a 4-3-3 system and encouraging players to move the ball quickly.

It’s a contrast to the old regime and will take time get it right. Time will tell exactly how long.