Middlesbrough face a stern test on Saturday as they face play-off chasing Fulham at the Riverside.
Middlesbrough currently sit preciously close to the bottom three, only one point above 22nd-placed Huddersfield Town, following their 0-0 draw with the West Yorkshire side on Wednesday night.
Jonathan Woodgate has yet to settle into the job on Teesside since taking over from Tony Pulis in the summer. Middlesbrough’s inconsistent form has coincided with their lineups of late, with Woodgate yet to find a formula that best suits his style and the players he has at his disposal, with a mixture of three and four at-the-back formations.
There has been a degree of patience so far with Woodgate’s methods from those at Middlesbrough, with many understanding that this is his first job in management and it will take time before he gets it right, which will almost certainly come eventually.
Boro face a Fulham side looking to get back to the play-off places this weekend, where their squad almost certainly have the quality to be. The Cottagers have just come off the back of a 3-2 win at home to Luton, where striker Aleksandar Mitrovic fired a hat-trick.
Woodgate’s side will be hoping they can halt Fulham in their pursuit for promotion and get their own season back on track.
Here, we take a look at how we expect Jonathan Woodgate and Middlesbrough to line up when they take on Fulham…
Woodgate will most likely field the side in a 3-5-2 formation, as he has done for the previous two fixtures. The first name on the team sheet will be Aynsley Pears in goal.
The 21-year-old started in Boro’s stalemate against Huddersfield, and despite being largely untested, he remained confident and did what he had to do well. Darren Randolph’s injury could be lengthier than first anticipated, meaning that Pears has a chance to put together a good string of performances.
In a back three, Woodgate will play Ryan Shotton, Dani Ayala, and Dael Fry. These three have been crucial to Middlesbrough over the past year under Pulis and now Woodgate and their undoubted quality won’t be replaced any time soon if not required.
Ayala had a golden opportunity to score at the John Smith’s Stadium on Wednesday night and will be hoping he can put that mistake right on Saturday.
Across the midfield five will be Marvin Johnson, George Saville, Lewis Wing, Paddy McNair, and Jonny Howson. Boro’s midfield have been criticised of late due to the lack of creativity and service being fed to the forwards in the team, but with the attacking ability here in the side, it is only a matter of time before they get going.
One key player in this midfield that will need to have a big game is Paddy McNair who has been in fine form for both club and country. Woodgate will be hoping his Northern Ireland form will translate to club form after he scored two on his last outing away to the Czech Republic.
Playing up front will most likely be Britt Assombalonga partnered by Marcus Tavernier playing just behind him. Assombalonga is certainly Boro’s most dangerous goal-threat and while he hasn’t been finding the net of late, Woodgate’s decision to play Fletcher over him in the draw against Huddersfield, with Fletcher missing an open goal from three yards that would have surely secured the points.