JUST last month Nathan Wood had to turn to the next page of his final GCSE exam paper, and earlier this week he displayed an incredible amount of composure to turn his man in his own penalty area - three times.

Over the course of that 90 minutes at Rochdale on Tuesday night, he highlighted why he is so highly thought of at Middlesbrough.

Wood only turned 16 in May. He has recently started his first full-time job during the last few weeks, it just so happens that is as a first year scholar and he has made such an impression he is already working with Tony Pulis and the first team.

Clearly his professional development is still in the embryonic stage, although on the evidence of what he has shown so far it is no wonder Pulis and his coaching staff have taken notice of the latest defensive talent to have emerged through the ranks.

Wood, the son of former Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace defender Dean Gordon, could not have done much more when he appeared in a senior game for the first time on UK soil.

Not only did he show his turn of pace and how he was good on the ball, he displayed a maturity on and off the pitch. As well as staying calm in possession when under pressure in his own area, he also made a number of telling blocks before carrying out his media duties like an experienced pro.

Now Wood just wants to keep improving. He intends to make sure his appearance at Spotland is merely the first of many in a long and successful career, having signed for Middlesbrough as a relatively late developer in comparison to when many youngsters sign for academies these days.

“I only signed for Middlesbrough when I was 13,” said Wood, who was spotted by Middlesbrough’s head of academy recruitment Martin Carter while he was playing for Stockton Schools’ at Northfield.

“When I was younger I played for TIBS in Sunday League and I would be nervous and hesitant on the ball back then. I was like Bambi on Ice at times! As I have got older, when I watch my games back, I get angry when I make mistakes. I now think where did that come from?

“I don’t think about being composed, it just comes naturally really. Watching things like that back, you don’t plan it, you can’t really because if you do you make mistakes. Some managers don’t like defenders being composed, some do.

“I had a bit of a telling off at Rochdale because as you get older you learn you can’t do it all the time, sometimes you have to whip it down the line, you can’t always be Tiki-taka.”

Wood's composure could well turn out to be his biggest strength, although Jonathan Woodgate – the former Real Madrid, Newcastle and Boro defender – is confident that there is a lot more than that to his game.

Woodgate, Middlesbrough’s first team coach, said: “Let’s take it slowly, he is a good player, if he keeps improving he can do what he wants. He has the right mentality. I am sure he will keep his feet on the floor and his head out of the clouds. We have to keep pushing him.

“It’s brilliant. He is lightning quick., so has that pace, if he can keep improving aerially, reading the game, he will learn that from this manager and all the coaches, including me. If we keep pushing him then he will develop.

“I will try to help him, I love trying to help young kids. I was no angel. I made mistakes and I was the first to admit that, he will be alright and you have to live and learn. He is a good kid.”

When Carter became aware of Wood with Stockton Town he witnessed a young player displaying the right character to improve, and there were bags of potential in terms of his size as a leggy teenager. A year later he was part of the England Under-15s and then 16s.

He studied at Conyers, Yarm, and will be getting his GCSE results at the end of August. “I was only 16 in May,” said Ingleby Barwick's Wood, smiling.

“My last exam was physics-science on June 15, I remember the date! Playing football seems to come a bit more naturally to me than the exams.

“I haven’t thought about how I have done in them really. Going in to school for 11 years I just loved being with my mates really, then the exams came around and I was a bit nervous. But after those I didn’t think I had an exam where I felt I had messed up.”

Wood is a clearly a clever youngster anyway, and not short of confidence. Having enjoyed being part of Pulis’ squad in Germany, where he appeared for the team in a friendly, he is now excited by what he could achieve if he is stays grounded and focused.

He said: “When I was younger I wasn’t the best footballer but I was a good footballer. I did quite a lot of athletics as a kid and that has helped me to get more physical. I have grown up and got more mature. Look at Lewis Wing, he came from Sunday league, some players at develop at different times.”

A sign of how highly Middlesbrough rate him is that there is a desire to challenge him more and more, having seen Wood effectively breeze through Under-18s games – even before he started his first year as a scholar.

Wood said: “I like watching big players. You talk about composure, I love watching Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, it’s laughable how they play in El Clasicos and you are more nervous than them when you are watching the game.

“Woody is a passionate on the defending side too and is going to help me as a player. Defensively, because when you are 16 playing with men, that is the most important side of the game than being on the ball, so Woody can really help me.”