How Leeds United rout proved turning point for Middlesbrough and Jonathan Woodgate

LOOKING UP: Middlesbrough manager Jonathan Woodgate. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
LOOKING UP: Middlesbrough manager Jonathan Woodgate. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA
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AS the saying goes, it is always the darkest before the dawn.

That certainly seems to ring true in the respect of rejuvenated Middlesbrough head coach Jonathan Woodgate.

GRIM VIEWING: Leeds United's Patrick Bamford scores his side's first goal of the game against Middlesbrough in a 4-0 win at Elland Road. Picture: Ian Hodgson/PA

GRIM VIEWING: Leeds United's Patrick Bamford scores his side's first goal of the game against Middlesbrough in a 4-0 win at Elland Road. Picture: Ian Hodgson/PA

His time at Leeds United proved the making of him in a playing career which saw him win plenty of admirers, even accounting for the fact that it was cruelly curtailed by injury.

Elland Road may prove similarly significant in his evolution as a head coach.

Woodgate may wince when anyone mentions the events of November 30 when injury-ravaged Boro were eviscerated by a classy Leeds side in a 4-0 rout.

By common consent, it was an occasion when the margin of victory could well have been a cricket score, with most observers prophesying that the teams would be two divisions apart come season’s end.

Hindsight has also shown that Woodgate’s regular statements that Boro were in a false position amid their grim run and that team spirit, mentality and confidence levels remained high were more than glib utterances.

Leon Wobschall

But time may put a different slant on those painful events for Boro, just one point above the drop zone after that trouncing.

Woodgate’s autumnal musings that the league table was lying were starting to leave him open to censure as Boro’s demise continued with the nadir coming against a Leeds side which extended the Teessiders’ rotten streak to just one win in 12.

It heaped pressure on the beleaguered shoulders of the rookie, with speculation soon linking Neil Warnock with the Boro post after the Leeds loss.

Fortunately, he could count on the unwavering support of one of the most respected chairmen in the land in Steve Gibson.

Hindsight has also shown that Woodgate’s regular statements that Boro were in a false position amid their grim run and that team spirit, mentality and confidence levels remained high were more than glib utterances.

Since that episode at Leeds, Boro have lost just once in seven league games, taking 16 points from the last 21 available – with Woodgate nominated for the Championship manager-of-the-month gong for December.

The run includes key victories over relegation rivals Charlton, Stoke and Huddersfield.

Boro are not quite out of the woods yet, although a 10-point buffer is far more substantial than it was on November 30.

Perhaps the most telling facet for Boro – awarded the LMA Performance of the Week for their festive win at West Brom – is that it has been achieved without several senior players.

The likes of 2018-19 PFA Championship Team of the Year member Darren Randolph, completing the finishing touches to a move to West Ham and £15m forward Britt Assombalonga have been absent, alongside Ryan Shotton and George Friend.

In their absence, the likes of Marcus Tavernier, Hayden Coulson, Djed Spence and Aynsley Pears are stepping up, with Woodgate blooding them out of necessity and not choice.

Sometimes, fates pan out in mysterious ways.