APART from victories, the most valuable commodity a football manager can have is time. Jonathan Woodgate is still searching for the former as he prepares to lead his Middlesbrough side into action against Wigan Athletic tonight, and is therefore hoping for plenty of the latter despite the disappointing start to his managerial career.
The league table counts for little after just three matches, but it is still a jarring sight to see Boro sitting just one place above bottom position. Throw in an embarrassing Carabao Cup exit at the hands of League Two Crewe Alexandra, and it is easy to see why the mood on Teesside has taken a turn for the worse.
Given the financial cost-cutting of the last 18 months, it was always going to be difficult for Woodgate to hit the ground running, and the sense of upheaval is only accentuated by the new head coach’s desire to radically overhaul the style espoused by his predecessor, Tony Pulis.
Rather than tinkering around the edges, Woodgate is thinking big when it comes to changing the way his players play. As a result, he accepts there will be difficulties along the way.
“We’ve got to believe in what we’re doing,” said the Boro boss, ahead of the first of two back-to-back home games. “It’s a long-term plan, not a short-term plan, and it’s not a short-term fix. It takes time, so we need the fans to stay with us, and I’m sure they will do. But it would be nice to just get that win, and the players will keep believing they can do it.
“I want us to be brave in possession, and have a high intensity to win the ball back and close things down. We’ll definitely be doing that. We’ll be working with a high intensity, and we’ll hopefully score the goals.”
Since the excitement of their opening-day draw at Luton, Boro have failed to score in successive league games against Brentford and Blackburn. Their failure to find the net does not tell the whole story, though, with the Brentford game in particular featuring some questionable refereeing decisions that had a major influence on the final result.
Had things gone their way, Boro could easily be sitting in the top half of the table, so while Woodgate would clearly prefer results to have been better, he is not too concerned at the general level of his side’s play.
“I feel that in the three league games, we haven’t got the points that we’ve deserved, that is for sure, but now we go into this game against Wigan,” he said. “It will be a difficult game. They’ve played well at times this season, and have got some good players, so it’ll be a good test for us.”
While Woodgate will not be wavering from his preferred style of play, he expects Wigan to provide the kind of physical test that was once extremely common in the Championship.
“I think they’ll go direct to (Kieffer) Moore,” said Woodgate. “He’s their new signing over the summer from Barnsley, and he’s a good player, a real handful. They’ll look to play off him, so it’s up to us to deal with that threat and then look to get the ball down and play.”
Rudy Gestede should return to the squad this evening, and Woodgate could also opt to promote Dael Fry back into the senior group after he played for an hour of last Friday’s Under-23s game against Stoke City.
Boro (probable, 4-1-4-1): Randolph; Dijksteel, Ayala, Shotton, Friend; Clayton; Johnson, Wing, McNair, Fletcher; Assombalonga.