QPR 2 Middlesbrough 2: What to make of Jonathan Woodgate's 'real fans' comments
As the rain poured down at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, a small press pack were crammed into the players’ tunnel following Middlesbrough’s action-packed 2-2 draw with QPR.
Usually post-match interviews take place in typical press conference style set-up yet this was a different, less formal environment.
After QPR boss Mark Warburton had shared his thoughts, Middlesbrough head coach Jonathan Woodgate emerged from the dressing room, seemingly upbeat despite his side’s nine-game winless run. Boro’s performance had been an improvement though.
Without the TV cameras Woodgate is naturally more relaxed, and this conversation, like many others he’s had with the written press, was just like a normal chat.
Halfway through the interview, Woodgate was asked about the 1,149 Boro supporters who made the trip to the capital. “They were unbelievable,” he responded quickly.
Yet Woodgate’s comments about those followers being the ‘real fans’ and subsequently having a pop at so-called ‘keyboard warriors’ didn’t go down too well with everybody.
So what was Woodgate actually trying to say?
First and foremost, to this reporter anyway, it seemed as if Woodgate was genuinely crediting those who travelled to Greater London and continuously backed the team.
Even when the visitors were 2-1 down, chants of ‘Jonny Woodgate is a red’ were audible. That meant a lot to Woodgate. He is a Boro fan after all.
Yet Woodgate would be naive to think the club’s entire fan base is behind him right now. Only last week, during a 2-0 defeat at Derby, a section of the Boro fans were chanting ‘we’re f****** s***’.
Woodgate has said before that he can take criticism, and he’s certainly received plenty in the last few weeks. Boro have slipped into the Championship relegation zone with just two wins from 16 league games and many are unconvinced by the club’s summer appointment.
The world of social media can often magnify those critics, though, and digital platforms such as Twitter allow anyone to vent their frustrations or even use false identities.
That’s not to say everyone criticising Woodgate is a ‘Twitter troll’, yet some are quick to jump on the bandwagon and seem to get pleasure by trying to shoot down others.
The Boro boss is well aware of how he’s being perceived, he is from Middlesbrough, has grown up reading the local papers and knows what’s going on in the town.
He will know about the backlash he’s received online and, no matter how thick skinned you are, that will inevitably sting a little.
His comments about ‘keyboard warriors’ possibly being Sunderland or Newcastle fans showed he’s aware of people taking jibes, yet he should also realise that some remarks are genuine.
Boro are under performing this season and Woodgate has admitted that himself.
People are right to ask questions after a nine-game winless run. That should put any manager under pressure and many supporters are understandably concerned.
Woodgate has to be careful not to alienate those fans who, it must be said, played a big part in Tony Pulis’ departure last summer.
It’s a big commitment to give up your time and money to follow the team up and down the country, and those 1,149 at QPR, as devoted as they are, only make up a small portion of Boro’s overall support group.
Woodgate may not have intended to cause offence following a decent away performance, yet some were clearly unimpressed by his remarks.
For those who have already made up their minds about Boro’s new head coach, this only added fuel to the fire.
It should be remembered, though, that Woodgate is still raw when it comes to management and the responsibilities which come with it.
The Boro boss was recently ridiculed for his comments that the league table was ‘lying’ ahead of their trip to Derby.
What he probably meant to say was that Boro deserved to be higher in the Championship based on their recent performances, yet his inexperience showed.
At least Woodgate tries to speak his mind, though, which couldn’t really be said about Garry Monk during his brief tenure at the Riverside.
Monk’s repeated comments about ‘the project’ and reluctance to single out individuals was hard to engage with.
Yet there is one obvious thing which every manager needs in order to get the club’s supporters on side. Results. After that the rest should fall into place.
So far Boro have failed to get enough points on the board this season, and that will always open up a gaping space for criticism.
Woodgate knows what a big part the fans can play and spoke about bringing supporters back to the Riverside when he was promoted to first-team coach back in June.
Results and performances will inevitably dictate that, but Boro will need their fans onside to escape from their current predicament.