Jonathan Woodgate must rebuild Middlesbrough's 'strong spine' to challenge for Championship promotion
Jonathan Woodgate knows what it takes to win promotion from the Championship - and hopes to recreate the strong spine which helped Boro reach the Premier League under Aitor Karanka.
Boro’s successful 2015/16 campaign was Woodgate’s final season as a player and despite making just one appearance that campaign, Boro’s new boss learnt a great deal from the sidelines.
Karanka’s team sealed a top-flight return after accumulating 89 points three years ago.
And when asked how Boro’s current side compares to Karanka’s promotion winners, Woodgate replied: “With Aitor Karanka’s squad we had a strong spine with some really tough boys, some of them who are still in the dressing room now.
“We need to add a few more players to make it a success, a bit more pace. But Aitor did a brilliant job and if I can do the same then that’d be good.”
One of Karanka’s first priorities after taking over at the Riverside was to build from the back, with a defensive quartet of Emilio Nsue, Daniel Ayala, Ben Gibson and George Friend regularly playing in front of goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopulos.
Further forward, Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton formed a robust midfield partnership which allowed Boro’s attacking players, the likes of Gaston Ramirez and Albert Adomah, to flourish.
So can Woodgate create a similar side during his first season at the Riverside?
In Darren Randolph Boro arguably have the best goalkeeper in the Championship, while academy product Dael Fry, 21, represents one of England’s promising young centre-backs.
Moving into midfield, Boro fans can expect to see more of the ever-improving Lewis Wing, 24, who offers a creative spark and a significant goal threat from the engine room.
The Teessdiders can also call on the experience of Ayala and Clayton, while Britt Assombalnga and Ashley Fletcher showed glimpses of forming a successful strike partnership last term.
One thing that seemed to hinder Boro’s former boss, Tony Pulis, was that he never seemed to know his strongest side.
For that reason, Woodgate must try to rebuild a strong and reliable backbone to ensure his team challenge for promotion.