It was fairly inevitable that after a superb festive season for Jonathan Woodgate which culminated in his first ‘Manager of the Month’ award, results would probably dip and the curse of that particular acclaim would strike again. Having said that, the games following the exciting performances that gave us four league wins in a row were hardly easy and there is no way anyone could criticise the team for not taking excellent opportunities to extend that winning run.
The draw against Derby, for instance, was disappointing as we had numerous chances to put the game to bed only to be foiled late on by a truly superb volley. We then more than held our own at home to ‘Spurs in the FA Cup and while the replay started badly there was a lot to applaud in the late comeback that saw us only lose by the odd goal. To be fair, it turned out to be a good result for ‘Boro because the team showed a degree of lethargy against both Fulham and Birmingham that would certainly not have been helped by a very long trip to Southampton had we enjoyed victory over ‘Spurs. Following that, the Paddy McNair penalty miss against Birmingham before ‘Boro’s ex-striker Lucas Jutkievitcz scored would probably have meant a win instead of a draw so perhaps we should again regret missing out on another excellent opportunity.
Perhaps the most important factor that has emerged from these games, however, is the way that Manchester City loan signing Patrick Roberts has immediately fitted in and shown enough potential to see the exciting football Woodgate promised at the start of the season come to fruition on a consistent basis. The four wins in a row that included the fantastic results at West Brom and Preston showed us that Woodgate’s determination to play attacking and exciting football were beginning to materialise but the excellent first touch, close control and attacking intentions Roberts has demonstrated so far are certainly signs that we have a lot to look forward to for the rest of the season. And looking up instead of down in the league is definitely an advantage that at the end of November we could hardly have envisaged.
We are now reaching the end of the transfer window and much has been said about the disastrous injury situation that has forced Woodgate to play midfielders Howson and McNair as two of our three main central defenders. He has also had to do without top scorer for the past two seasons Britt Assombalonga so his first period in charge has been completely devoid of any good fortune. So, approaching the often ridiculous events of that final day of the transfer window, questions have also been asked about the future of Dael Fry and the potential of a loan return of Ben Gibson. Whatever the result of those final days of the window ‘Boro have definitely turned a corner and should continue to look up and not down.
The wonderful thing about the championship is that – as we showed during December and early January – a bit of consistency can reap huge benefits and see a team storm up the league. Upcoming fixtures include winnable home games against Blackburn and Luton before the obviously tough ‘derby’ against Leeds. Away games include winnable fixtures against Barnsley and Wigan but we also have a tough looking game at Brentford. If we maintain the sort of form we have shown over the last month, however, we have every chance to continue to climb the league. If we can do that it may well lead to a more exciting end to the season than we could have foreseen during the early part of a campaign that for a couple of weeks saw us encamped in the relegation zone.
While it’s probably obvious, I have to admit I’m a bit of a Woodgate fan and applaud the fact that he has developed and progressed during a very difficult period over which he has had very little control. That he has come through all that with commendable fortitude and some excellent results and performances says a lot for his potential as a very good manager. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now. I hope he gets what he deserves. The chance and the time to prove it!
Here’s wishing you all a very successful February.