Joe Nicholson's verdict: Pros and cons of Boro's system were highlighted in Nottingham Forest draw
At the start of the season Middlesbrough head coach Jonathan Woodgate made it clear he wanted to play 4-3-3.
He wasn’t wedded to the system but thought it was the best way to play the high pressing, front foot football he spoke about in the summer
Yet the reality is, Boro simply don’t have the squad to consistently operate with two natural wingers or with the insecurity of a back four.
Of course there are pros and cons to any formation, and during Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Nottingham Forest we also saw the strengths and deficiencies of the side’s new set-up.
Boro’s back three of Daniel Ayala, Dael Fry and Jonny Howson defended stoutly in the first half at the City Ground, as a Forest side fighting for promotion this season dominated possession. Yet Woodgate’s team struggled to find an attacking outlet.
With Britt Assombalonga out injured, Ashley Fletcher was deployed as a lone frontman but often found himself isolated up top.
Marcus Tavernier started the game in the No.10 position but was forced to retreat to the flank to stop Forest doubling up out wide.
Out of possession, Boro were playing with a 5-4-1 before the interval.
Some may criticise Woodgate for a more defensive approach, yet the reality is it suits the players at the head coach’s disposal.
Boro kept Forest at arms’ length until Ryan Yates headed the hosts ahead midway through the second half. At that point, it was time to change.
On came winger Marvin Johnson and striker Stephen Walker as Boro went 4-4-2 and pushed for the equaliser.
Suddenly, with a lead to hang onto, Forests’ defenders, who’d enjoyed a relatively comfortable evening, had more to think about.
With Johnson on the right and Hayden Coulson on the left, Boro were the side attacking down the flanks, while Walker’s introduction gave Fletcher some much-needed support.
That’s not to say such an offensive approach would work in every game. We’ve already seen how Boro’s shape was brutally exposed against Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham this season.
Woodgate is still looking for the right balance with this young side – yet this was also a good indication that they can adapt.