What Jonathan Woodgate's surprise tactical decision tells us after Middlesbrough's win over Wigan Athletic
There were 23 minutes to go at the Riverside Stadium on Tuesday night and Wigan Athletic were starting to rebuild some momentum against Jonathan Woodgate’s Middlesbrough.
The Boro head coach was closing in on his first competitive win in charge of his hometown club but the result was by no means a done deal, even against a team who had the joint worst away record in the Championship last season.
Woodgate could see where his side were vulnerable, Latics wing-back Nathan Byrne was finding space on the right channel and the Boro head coach felt he needed to react.
Off came left-back Marc Bola, making way for central midfielder George Saville, as the Teessiders switched to a back three.
Paddy McNair was moved into a centre-back role, with Marvin Jonhson and Jonny Howson taking up wing-back spots in what looked like a 3-5-2 set-up.
At the time it looked like a strange call, given Woodgate’s attachment to 4-3-3.
Boro’s backline withstood the late pressure, though, holding firm to grind out a much-needed 1-0 win.
If Wigan had pegged back a late equaliser, the decision would have undoubtedly been questioned, yet the switch showed Woodgate will back his judgement in high-pressure situations.
"I thought Byrne was getting too much space so I put Marvin Johnson on and tweaked it to a three,” said Boro’s head coach after the match.
It comes after a flurry of comments surfaced on social media following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Blackburn, questioning if Woodgate has a plan B.
Here, though, the Boro boss adapted to an in-game situation, even when his side held the advantage.
Even so, no one could deny this was far from a convincing display. Boro’s passing was reckless in the opening exchanges and a better side would have capitalised.
The Teessiders still look vulnerable when trying to pass out from the back but, after taking just one point from three games, the result was all that mattered here.
As the match wore on, there were glimpses of the passing game Woodgate wants to play, yet, for the most part, this was a drawn out grind.
That’s what the Championship is like sometimes and Woodgate is learning fast.