One month on from Jonathan Woodgate’s Manager of the Month award and it is almost as if December never happened. Off the field, the weather is worse than ever and the Christmas trees and light-adorned houses are a faint memory.
On the field and Middlesbrough look to have forgotten all about the great form they ended the last decade with.
Boro are currently winless in seven league games, after picking up four victories in the month of December. This month saw Woodgate double the number of victories in his managerial career, and only one of these wins have come when the other team have scored a goal in the game.
The recent matches have shown a downturn in form, and it looked to have hit rock bottom with a showing againstb Luton Town which was devoid of of idea, heart, creativity and guile.
Boro’s backup plan is broken
One major problem has been the Boro bosses tactics in this game. Woodgate has become almost McClaren like in his substitutions, and throwing any and ever striker at the club onto the field when his side go a goal down.
On the face of it, bringing on more strikers makes sense when chasing a game. The problem lies, however, when you remove all your creativity from the field when doing so and have your top scorer trying to get the ball into the box.
The fortunes of the Teesside team turned around when Ashley Fletcher was the only fit striker at the club. After two seasons at the club, the former Manchester United academy graduate was given the chance to lead the line by himself and he took it with both hands, but often sees his opportunties dwarfed when Rudy Gestede and Britt Assombalonga enter the fray.
Another example of the flaws with Woodgate’s ‘Plan B’ when Boro are down was seen against Luton, when Lukas Nmecha was given the ball on the left flank but was reluctant to but the ball in on his left foot and the ball the eventually came wasn’t up to par.
Watching this from the sideline was Marcus Tavernier and Marvin Johnson who could both have provided much better service for other three strikers awaiting the cross.
This, from a side who are a self-proclaimed footballing side, who just seem to give up with any tactics and return to prime ‘Pulis-ball’ whenever they go a goal down.
Not all recent problems lie with subs
Middlesbrough’s change in form looks to have also coincided with the loss of Daniel Ayala to injury which was left a leadership void in the centre of defence. Dael Fry’s recent injury hasn’t helped things for Woodgate either.
The return of Geroge Friend should help, although he looked quite off the pace when facing the Hatters and he was caught up the pitch on a couple of occasions.
Ryan Shotton is also in line to start for Boro at Barnsley this weekend and he could provide more stability. Shotton played as the central of three centre backs away at Blackburn last season and it looked to be his best performance in recent memory. Perhaps he could slot there with Moukoudi pushed to the right and Howson replacing Paddy McNair in midfieldd who looked out of sorts at points during the Luton tie.
What’s the solution?
In the coming games, fans should hope that Woodgate believes in his tactics more and refrains from firing from the hip whenever the wind changes. Rudy Gestede offers little when used as target practise as he has recently.
Gestede’s ability in the air should be utilised when chasing the game, but look for him in the box from set pieces or crosses, not goal kicks and long punts up from the back.
Britt Assombalonga, on the other hand, needs to be eased back into the teams and given chances from the start. He can’t be brought on cold and hoped to create something, even though the starting forwards (Fletcher and Nmecha started against Luton) were starved of service all match.
It is clear that Middlesbrough, like most teams, need a fall back option when things go wrong and a goal is needed. Their current Plan B, however, verges on Defamation and Woodgate will be prayin’ for an answer or the criticism that she said could turn into the fat lady singing.