It’s been a busy week for Middlesbrough as the Championship table starts to take shape.
Three fixtures in seven days went a long way to showing where the Teessiders could finish this season as they faced tricky tests against Brentford, Wigan Athletic and Luton Town.
In a week where hopes were high, Jonathan Woodgate’s side managed just one point from the three fixtures as the club started to look nervously over their shoulder at the relegation battle taking place beneath them.
While there’s still 13 games remaining we certainly learned a lot about Middlesbrough during the last week as they move into the final third of the season.
Here are the key talking points from a hectic week of Championship football.
Has Jonathan Woodgate been a success as Middlesbrough manager so far?
George Friend’s return
He’s only featured twice for Middlesbrough so far this term but George Friend made his long-awaited return from injury against Luton Town.
The defender played the full 90 minutes against the Hatters, and while he wasn’t flying up and down the flank like we’re used to, he looked physically capable of competing once again.
Friend naturally appeared to be a bit rusty but given the lack of football that he’s played it’s something that’s to be expected.
It remains to be seen what sort of role the experienced defender will play moving forward, as it seems unlikely that he’ll oust Hayden Coulson or Marvin Johnson from the wing-back role, but he could still play a key role in the centre of defence.
That will depend on how he settles into the role in the coming weeks, but given the result against Luton it may be the case that Woodgate sees Saturday’s formula as one which didn’t quite work.
An opportunity for Middlesbrough’s newest signings
The away trip to Brentford gave Middlesbrough their first glimpses of Harold Moukoudi and Ravel Morrison on the Middlesbrough teamsheet.
The powerful centre-back started the game and looked very impressive, before keeping his place for the clashes with Wigan Athletic and Luton Town.
As for Morrison, the former Man United youngster had to wait until the midweek trip to the DW Stadium to be given a chance, but showed flashes of quality against the strugglers.
Both players look set to play a big role between now and the end of the season, but given the results obtained it appears that there could be some work to do to get them up to speed.
After all, the Teessiders are sleepwalking into a relegation dogfight.
Questionable, ineffective tactics
Jonathan Woodgate’s recent success was down to naming a consistent starting XI in a proven formation.
So why he’s decided to alter both aspects is beyond me.
Middlesbrough played four at the back against the Bees and against Wigan, before changing back to his preferred wing-back system against Luton.
The introduction of the new signings saw a change of personnel as well, with the likes of Djed Spence dropping out of the side and Harold Moukoudi drafted straight into the centre of defence.
This sort of tinkering is what caused Middlesbrough problems at the start of the season, so perhaps Woodgate would be better served sticking with the consistent selection that served them so well in December and January.
How much do you know about Middlesbrough’s January signings? Let’s find out!
The reality of Middlesbrough’s situation
It’s been a week which was tipped as one to decide where Middlesbrough are likely to finish this term, but things don’t look good at present.
Clashes against Wigan Athletic and Luton Town should have represented a good opportunity to get some good points on the board to strengthen Middlesbrough’s position above the relegation zone, but instead they seem to be creeping closer.
The Teessiders are now just six points above the drop zone and with some difficult fixtures coming up it could be a nervy end to the season.
Next up for Middlesbrough is a trip to Barnsley on Saturday, and the feeling now is that is very much a must-win fixture for Jonathan Woodgate’s side.
If they slip up, it’s a very real possibility that they’ll go into the matches with Leeds United and Nottingham Forest with the need to get a win.