While Middlesbrough’s remaining fixtures are yet to be arranged, there’s no getting away from the amount of work that’s still to be done.
Despite an early resurgence at the end of 2019, the Teessiders have struggled for consistency this season – a trait which has landed them in a tricky situation.
Jonathan Woodgate’s side currently sit just two points above the relegation zone, and with nine games left to play, there’s plenty of work still to be done to secure their Championship status.
In our latest FLW Six Pointer, we look at Middlesbrough’s season in detail and look at what could be next for Jonathan Woodgate’s side.
What has gone wrong for Middlesbrough this season?
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing that had led to Middlesbrough’s difficult season.
“The Teessiders have had more than their fair share of injuries to key men, but I think it’s a bit of a weak excuse to blame the whole season on on that.
“Of course lengthy spells on the sidelines for the likes of Daniel Ayala, Dael Fry, Patrick Roberts and Britt Assombalonga have been a blow, but it’s also been a case of Woodgate lacking cohesion in the team he has selected.
“Several new arrivals joined the club in January which could have upset the balance of the squad, while there’s also seven senior first team figures who are out of contract in the summer which could be a distraction as well.
“It’s almost a perfect storm of what has gone wrong, but it’s hard to pinpoint what the deciding factor has been.”
Will Middlesbrough avoid relegation from the Championship?
What role have key injuries played on the season?
“Middlesbrough have certainly had some rotten luck with injuries this term.
“A number of injuries at the back end of last year saw Jonathan Woodgate managing a thread-bare squad, but since then a number of players have come back.
“They’re still without Daniel Ayala, and Anfernee Dijksteel – while Dael Fry and Patrick Roberts are only just on the cusp of a return.
“While Middlesbrough can lick their wounds over these injuries, you perhaps need to look at why so many injuries have occurred this term, as it’d be naive to assume that it’s all down to ‘bad luck’.
“The Teessiders will be pleased to get their main men back after this fixture suspension as it’ll put them in a much stronger position for their continued fight against relegation.”
Has the contract situation of Middlesbrough’s key players had a negative impact?
“It’d be incredibly naive to assume that it hasn’t played a key role.
“Daniel Ayala, George Friend, Ryan Shotton, Jonny Howson, Adam Clayton, Marvin Johnson and Rudy Gestede are all out of contract in the summer which means that there’s a huge amount of uncertainty in the Boro dressing room.
“Not only are there a lot of players in that list, but you could argue that these players make up much of the core of Jonathan Woodgate’s best XI.
“While you can understand that Middlesbrough may be willing to let some players leave at the end of their deals, it was a huge gamble to let this situation play out with so much riding on their Championship form.
“The only hope for supporters is that the team can regain some focus for what is set to be a crucial couple of months.”
How has Jonathan Woodgate fared in his first season as manager?
“It’s been a real baptism of fire for the former defender.
“I wouldn’t exactly say that Jonathan Woodgate is a universally popular figure around Teesside, but for the majority of fans there’s a degree of sympathy and understanding for the job that he’s been tasked with at the Riverside Stadium.
“Building a team after losing several key players and blooding youngsters into the first team squad is a difficult task, but ultimately he needs to shoulder a large chunk of the responsibility.
“Steve Gibson has come out and backed Woodgate publicly, but there’s not going to be a huge amount of good feeling towards the manager if he takes Middlesbrough into League One.”
Is the dressing room united in the fight against relegation?
“From the outside I’m not in a position to make a big statement here, but it’d be easy to see why there could be fractures within the first team squad.
“In my view, you can split the dressing room into three different groups.
“You have the experienced players – many of whom face uncertainty over their futures with regards to contracts, you have the young players who are hoping to break into the first team on a regular basis, and you have a third group which includes the four loan signings who almost certainly won’t be with the club next term.
“I’m not in a position to say how the players are feeling and applying themselves, but there’s so many groups, dynamics and personal situations in that squad that it’d be surprising if everyone was singing off the same hymn sheet.
“All that you can do is hope that the players have the required professionalism to put their own situations to one side in order to help the club who are paying their wages to avoid the drop.”
Can you name where these 15 Middlesbrough players started their career?
Are Middlesbrough capable of avoiding relegation?
“There’s no doubt that Middlesbrough are capable, but there’s lots of work to be done.
“We’ve heard all too often about how well the team has played, and how the team deserved more from a game, but points deserved is not a column on the Championship table.
“With players starting to return from injury it’s about getting them fully match sharp as soon as possible so that they’re ready for some big games that are coming up.
“Jonathan Woodgate’s philosophy about playing attractive football needs to go out of the window as soon as possible, because the main thing is picking up points by any means necessary.
“Middlesbrough have the players to avoid the drop, we just need to see whether they have the application to pull it off.”