How Woodgate’s plan started coming together

Simeon Gholam

EFL Reporter @simgholam

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Last Updated: 16/01/20 8:04pm

There are probably more than a few managers in the English game who wish they had an owner like Steve Gibson.

Even after a run of just two wins in their opening 17 games, all Jonathan Woodgate ever received from his boss was unconditional support. It is a rare thing these days, especially for a club harbouring aspirations of returning to the Premier League.

“That was really important,” Woodgate tells Sky Sports. “And he did ring me on numerous occasions after defeats to tell me to keep on going, and to keep on doing what you believe in, because you’re not a million miles away.”

Keep on going Woodgate did. A huge win at home to Barnsley near the end of November ended a dreadful run of form. Another win came over Charlton in early December, before four straight victories over the festive season. It was enough to earn him the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month award.

“It was imperative we started winning games and we did that,” continues Woodgate.

Jonathan Woodgate of Middlesbrough won the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month award for December
Jonathan Woodgate of Middlesbrough won the Sky Bet Championship Manager of the Month award for December

“I put a lot of pressure on myself all the time. But I had pressure on me throughout my career, so when it does start to build you’re already used to it.

“But I didn’t really realise how hard it would be to change things overnight. It takes time. We weren’t far away from getting results, and there were times when we didn’t get what we deserved.

“Training hasn’t changed at all. Our intensity hasn’t changed. Nor has our belief in how we want to do things or how we want to play the game. I’ve changed formation a few times but that’s only to counter teams where I think we can beat them. We’re not good enough to go toe to toe and say. ‘right, our team is better than yours’. We’ve got to find a way to win.

“But we’ve still got to improve and we can’t get complacent. Because if you do you know what happens, and hopefully that won’t happen with my team.”

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Derby.
Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Derby.

Woodgate’s methods may not have changed during that tricky start to his managerial career, but there is one big leadership lesson he has learned.

“You’ve got to stay positive,” he says. “And you’ve got to make sure people see you as that positive figure. You can’t turn your back on certain players when things are going badly, either. I’ve got to believe in all my players, because even if they have a bad game it doesn’t make them a bad player overnight.

“You’ve got to stay with them and show belief in them. That will help you keep their confidence.”

One player has shown a huge amount of belief in is goalkeeper Aynsley Pears. The 21-year-old’s only senior appearances before this season came on loan at Darlington in the National League North in 2017/18 and then at Gateshead in the National League last season.

An injury to Darren Randolph in October, however, opened a door. Pears walked through and he is yet to look back.

Aynsley Pears has impressed in goal for Middlesbrough
Aynsley Pears has impressed in goal for Middlesbrough

“I put Aynsley in because Darren got injured, and he did really well,” explains Woodgate. “I could have made the easy decision to put in another senior goalkeeper, but Aynsley was doing better at the time.

“It’s important to stick to your beliefs and do what you think is right for the club, because I think that’s where you gain respect, from putting someone in who hasn’t really played in the league, and who was on loan in the National League last year.”

Randolph has now moved on to West Ham and Pears’ importance to Middlesbrough is already such that he was rested for their two recent FA Cup ties against Tottenham.

Boro were excellent in the initial clash at the Riverside on January 5, and would have considered themselves slightly unfortunate to be taken to a replay back at the Premier League ground – which Spurs won 2-1 on Tuesday night.

Woodgate (L) and his assistant Robbie Keane (R) with Jose Mourinho
Woodgate (L) and his assistant Robbie Keane (R) with Jose Mourinho

The way they held their own against Jose Mourinho’s side showed just how far they have come in the last couple of months.

“It was a fantastic experience,” says Woodgate. “I’ve known a few of the Tottenham players for a while now, but to play against a team who made it to the Champions League final was never going to be easy, especially also going up against a manager of Jose’s calibre.

“I thought we handled the occasion really well, my players worked as hard as they can and stuck to the gameplan. We did really well, but in a lot of games this season we haven’t been that far away, and now it seems to be coming together.

“We can be confident, but we can’t get complacent.”

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Source : Sky Sports