Why Jonathan Woodgate wants Middlesbrough and not Leeds United fans singing his name

Middlesbrough manager Jonathan Woodgate: Under pressure.Middlesbrough manager Jonathan Woodgate: Under pressure.
Middlesbrough manager Jonathan Woodgate: Under pressure.
IT was an infamous Riverside occasion when the leader in the Middlesbrough dug-out received warmth from the travelling contingent of Leeds United fans at one end of the ground, but a bouquet of barbed wire from the home sections.

That came in October, 2010 when the final fixture of Boro manager Gordon Strachan’s forgettable Boro tenure was played out amid a mutinous mood from irate home fans who chanted for the Scot to go as the hosts plunged to their lowest league position for 20 years. They were to get their wish.

The sight of Leeds supporters chanting Strachan’s name en route to their side’s 2-1 win on Teesside will have been scant consolation for the United great.

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How current Boro chief Jonathan Woodgate, remembered fondly for his stylish playing days at Leeds, will be keen to avoid being damned with faint praise from the big away following tonight.

After Saturday’s atrocious display at Barnsley, which extended Boro’s run without a win to 10 matches in all competitions, Woodgate – despite still retaining the support of Boro loyals who sang about him ‘being a red’ early on at Oakwell – will be conscious that the mood is shifting.

Anger was reserved for the Boro players with chants of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ arriving at the end, but another lame display would leave Woodgate open to the elements and a potential tipping-point.

Mention of Leeds is likely to induce a cold shudder from Boro supporters, given their side’s 4-0 evisceration at LS11 at the end of autumn, when the gulf in class between the old rivals was huge.

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Then, there was a key mitigating factor by way of a crippling injury list, with Woodgate’s opposite number, Marcelo Bielsa, showing admirable magnanimity afterwards by saying that his Leeds team had not faced the ‘real Middlesbrough.’

Despite the absence of two key players in Daniel Ayala and Patrick Roberts, Woodgate has options tonight, unlike in the reverse fixture. How he uses them is another thing entirely.

The one redeeming feature from that Leeds humbling was the fact that eight academy players were in Boro’s match-day squad with the brio of youth helping to revitalise the club’s season in startling fashion amid the wreckage of Elland Road.

In that respect, the game was a positive turning point in the season for Boro, who lost just one of their next seven league games, winning five and claiming the high-profile scalps of West Brom and Preston.

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Along the way, emerging talents Djed Spence, Hayden Coulson and Marcus Tavernier rose to prominence.

By contrast, Coulson and Tavernier were on the bench at Barnsley and Spence was not even involved with Woodgate bluntly stating that the latter ‘needed to do more’ after being culled from his squad.

The conundrum for Woodgate is that Boro, with a number of senior men back on deck, looked slow and ponderous in Oakwell.

It followed another witless display in the loss to Luton when Coulson and Spence started.

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Woodgate’s selection this evening will be fascinating. His time at Boro has shown he is fighter – with a trait of Teesside steel inside him if you listen to chairman Steve Gibson. He has handled adversity before and come out on the other side.

That resolve faces arguably its acid test tonight. One where Woodgate would probably rather not hear Leeds fans chanting his name. Not this time.