Reality bites quickly for Jonathan Woodgate at ailing Middlesbrough

HEAD UP to the top of the North Riding of Yorkshire and a perfect storm is brewing.

Head in hands: Jonathan Woodgate is being tested in his first job as a manager with hometown club Middlesbrough. (Picture: Getty Images)

Third from bottom in the Championship table, with goals being a precious commodity and confidence seemingly haemorrhaging by the week, Middlesbrough are in a parlous situation that would test the most experienced of managers.

Let alone a rookie handed the reins in a time of austerity at the Riverside Stadium, with Boro having made no secret of the need to cut costs after the ending of parachute payments.

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Listen to Boro manager Jonathan Woodgate and the Championship league table is, in his words, ‘lying’ with his side’s performances so far this season having merited more, in his view.

Middlesbrough assistant Robbie Keane with manager Jonathan Woodgate (right) during the Sky Bet Championship match at Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough. (Picture: Richard Sellers/PA Wire)

Those comments, which have been made on several occasions, are increasingly wearing thin among agitated Boro followers.

To quote the catchphrase of Mark Twain, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

Without a win in their last eight league games, Boro are also the lowest scorers in the Championship with 11 goals – only Bolton Wanderers have found the net fewer times so far this term in the entire EFL.

A pitiful haul of three goals in their last eight Championship engagements makes for particularly painful reading.

A Boro striker has found the net just once since the end of August, with Ashley Fletcher’s goal drought in the league stretching back to August 2.

Given that Woodgate has just three senior forwards at his disposal in Fletcher, Britt Assombalonga and Rudy Gestede – with the latter having been injured for large swathes of his nightmare time at the club and rarely seen, it is a grim scenario.

The opening of the January transfer window should not provide much solace, with Boro’s era of retrenchment ensuring that they are unlikely to be throwing significant money at bringing in a new forward or two.

As is often the way in a difficult situation, Boro’s forthcoming itinerary offers scant respite, as does the sight of an increasingly congested treatment room.

The club’s next seven away fixtures are all against sides who are currently in the two nine, including all of the top five.

That sort of sequence only heightens the importance of home form, with the Riverside fixture with Barnsley later this month having the look of a make-or-break one for Woodgate.

A game against the Reds proved a seminal appointment for one of his predecessors in Tony Mowbray, another born-and-bred Teessider handed the reins in similarly trying circumstances at a time when Boro were cutting their financial cloth.

Time was called on Mowbray’s tenure two days after a 3-2 reverse at Oakwell in October 2013 and Woodgate will be hoping to avoid a similar fate this time around in his bid to find a catalyst in a season which has the portents of being a dangerous and damaging one if things do not improve fast.

Woodgate’s utterances about ushering in a more attractive playing style at his unveiling may have been manna from heaven for many supporters following the prosaic Tony Pulis era.

But reality has quickly bitten for Boro, just as it did for Ipswich last season after their decision to part company with another old-school and perceived footballing pragmatist in Mick McCarthy.

Pulis may have had his critics on Teesside – just as McCarthy did at Portman Road, currently staging third-tier football for the first time since 1957.

Yet sometimes, you have to be careful what you wish for.