Will Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson go against type and unfairly sack Jonathan Woodgate?

Stephen Tudor by Stephen Tudor / 17 December 2019, 09:52

There has not yet been a fan-base created who think and feel exactly the same way towards a manager but as possible as it is to summarize the Middlesbrough support at present it can be said that – by and large – they still have Jonathan Woodgate’s back.

This is to their enormous credit given that Boro are experiencing their worst season since 2010, and it’s a testament also to the former defender’s popularity, being a native son of Teeside.

The plaudits don’t end there either. Club chairman Steve Gibson has long had a reputation in the game for showing patience towards his managers and that is in evidence again with a recent declaration that Middlesbrough’s hierarchy intends to stand by Woodgate, despite his side languishing two places above the relegation zone having won only four games all season.

Detailed among that show of support were the extenuating circumstances that suggest the 39-year-old’s first venture into the dug-out is no fair reflection on any managerial credentials he may possess.

Most pertinently of all there is the drastic cost-cutting measures Boro have embarked upon now that the parachute payments from their recent short stint in the Premier League have dried up. A boggling sum exceeding £70m was spent on two failed bids to return to the top flight whereas this summer Woodgate was handed a relatively paltry £2.2m. 

If this were not prohibitive enough there has also been a cruel spree of injuries that have decimated his squad depriving him at times of eight first-team starters. That’s a number that would trouble Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp never mind a rookie coach finding his feet in one of the most demanding professions around.

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Jonathan Woodgate has experienced a difficult start to his managerial career

So a newbie gaffer was expected to transform the sterile football played under his predecessor Tony Pulis and all on a meagre budget while additionally bringing through the kids.

This onerous task was undermined considerably by seeing some of his best talent laid up in the treatment room yet still the remit has remained throughout to get Boro pushing for a play-off spot. Is it any wonder that Woodgate has fallen short?

Is it any wonder too that the fans are giving him some slack while his employers are publicly recognising the roadblocks placed before him but alas here comes the flipside. There is always a flip-side.

The grim reality imposed by stringent FFP regulations means that although an imminent revisiting of the lucrative Premier League is not necessary to stay afloat so long as the penny-pinching continues a drop to the third tier borders on the unthinkable.

Middlesbrough have a wage bill of £22m and although seven players can be contractually off-loaded next summer they will need to be replaced, as relying on teenagers not yet up to professional standards – as they have found to their cost – solves precisely nothing. Ever-diminishing crowds meanwhile remain a concern. 

And unquestionably the threat of relegation is a real and pervasive presence right now.

Boro have scored 0.8 goals per game to this point and host fellow strugglers Stoke City on Friday knowing that a defeat could see them overtaken and situated in the bottom three over the weekend. The fact that they last scored more than once at the Riverside all the way back in April hardly inspires confidence.

This then is a huge fixture but then again every fixture is until safety is secured, and with a January window opening soon offering the possibility of loan deals and with Boro’s form showing very little signs of improving it, prompts a legitimate question as to whether Steve Gibson might buckle during the Christmas period and go against type - jettisoning a manager before he’s had sufficient time to prove himself. He has after all done so once before.

Since taking on the Middlesbrough chairmanship in 1994 Gibson has seen nine permanent managers come and go: a commendable tally considering his club have been relegated three times during that quarter of a century along with enduring numerous failed promotions attempts.

In December 2017 however Garry Monk was unceremoniously sacked after just six months in charge with the club hovering below the play-offs. It was a dismissal that brought consternation from many not to mention a good deal of surprise but what it additionally did was illustrate that when panicked Gibson could be as ruthless as the next man ultimately at the helm. 

Should the results persist in disappointing there may also be some reflecting on that dismal campaign in 2010. Then, a mid-December loss away at Doncaster Rovers was Boro’s nadir that year until Tony Mowbray – early into his tenure – turned things around and orchestrated an unbeaten run that lasted until February. A malaise that had set in under Gordon Strachan was ended with new blood and a fresh direction. 

In recent weeks Boro have been linked with the veteran inspirer Neil Warnock as speculation regarding Woodgate’s future loudens. Gibson meanwhile has characteristically backed his man. Something has to give. 

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