FOOTBALL fans can be a strange breed. Last season, Middlesbrough supporters were crying out for a change of direction. So what happens? Tony Pulis leaves, the club appoint Jonathan Woodgate as part of a radical reorganisation, and people are still not happy. Not all, admittedly. But a trawl through social media last week suggested the reaction to Woodgate’s appointment has been mixed at best.

Too inexperienced. Not bright enough. Too caught up in the failures of the previous regime. Part of the ‘Teesside mafia’. The criticisms have been as varied as they have been ridiculous. Before a ball has even been kicked on Woodgate’s watch, it is almost as if a section of Middlesbrough’s fanbase cannot wait to see him fail.

“I don’t mind anyone having a view,” said Woodgate, in his introductory press conference last Friday. “But it’s when it’s character assassination, digging and rumours. You know what society can be like sometimes. The hardcore fans really back you, and I’ve had some lovely messages as well.”

Should a boyhood Middlesbrough fan, who has spent the best part of seven years playing and coaching at his hometown club, really have to make such a statement on what he openly admitted was the proudest day of his footballing life?

I’ve always been of the belief that while football fans profess to want homegrown players breaking into their club’s first team, they’re quicker to turn on them if they think they’re getting too big for their boots. That’s not just the case at Middlesbrough, but how else do you explain the criticism that’s been meted out to Stewart Downing, surely one of the best players Teesside has ever produced, in the last few years?

Woodgate has been tarred with the same brush, but while it is perfectly justified to have reservations about the 39-year-old’s ability to step up to a head coach role in the pressure-cooker environment of the Championship, some of the more personal attacks that have been levelled at him in the last week are inexcusable.

And even if Woodgate still has plenty to prove as the head of a new-look coaching team, surely it is better that Steve Gibson has gone down the route of promoting an ambitious young coach with a lifelong association to Middlesbrough rather than opting for one of the tried-and-tested alternatives that were available?

Boro went down the ‘old-school, experience’ route with Pulis, and it did not work. They went down the ‘throw a load of money at the problem’ route with Garry Monk, and that did not work either. The most successful recent period on Gibson’s watch came under Aitor Karanka, and just as appointing the previously untested Spaniard was a risk that paid dividends, so it is to be hoped that Woodgate grows into a managerial role and goes on to win promotion.

When John Terry was mentioned as a potential candidate, a frisson of excitement seemed to flow around Teesside. But why should Terry, with half a season on the coaching staff at Aston Villa, be seen as a better bet than Woodgate, who has worked with Boro’s academy set-up and first team as well as gaining experience as a scout at Liverpool? Frank Lampard looks set to be the new boss at Chelsea, but he is only a year or so ahead of Woodgate in terms of his managerial development.

With the parachute payments from the Premier League having expired, this is going to be a period of change for Middlesbrough. Gibson disputed the notion that finances were tight on Friday, but there is little doubt that the free-spending days of the past are over. The Financial Fair Play regulations mean Boro’s wriggle room in the transfer market is extremely limited, so surely it is better to have someone like Woodgate in charge, who is crystal-clear about the situation and wants to head down a different route?

He is serious about wanting to promote from within the academy – something Boro fans were constantly clamouring for last season – and appears to be determined to introduce a much more positive, attacking style than was the case under Pulis last season. His choice of coaches to work with him has been astute, with the appointment of Robbie Keane as his assistant potentially something of a masterstroke.

He wants to get the fans back onside because for all that he worked under Pulis last season and was at least partially responsible for what unfolded, he remains a supporter at heart. Listening to him speak last week about his memories of Ayresome Park, and the day when he watched a reformed Middlesbrough play their first game at Hartlepool, it felt as though an important bond had been restored. “Jonny Woodgate is a red”. Surely he deserves a chance to take his hometown team forward?


IT hasn’t been a bad Cricket World Cup so far, but it feels as though the tournament has hit something of a lull as the group stage trundles towards its conclusion.

The fact that everyone plays everyone means the best four teams should eventually end up in the semi-finals – something that isn’t always the case with other formats – but 34 days is too long for the group stage of any competition.

It inevitably leads to dead rubbers, or at the very least, matches that lack the tension of knowing that qualification is on the line.

There could be some crackers in the final fortnight of group games – when Headingley and the Riverside finally get the chance to play host – but there will almost certainly be some fixtures that are a complete waste of time.


JUSTIN ROSE’S final-round implosion at the US Open meant we were denied the prospect of a shoot-out with Gary Woodland, and also extended the poor run of European players at this year’s Majors.

Rose and Jon Rahm finished in a tie for third at Pebble Beach, but the rest of the top eight players were non-Europeans.

Matt Wallace was the only European in the top seven at the USPGA, while Francesco Molinari was the only European player to make the top eight as Tiger Woods won the US Masters.

Next month’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush represents the final chance for a European to challenge for a Major in 2019. On this year’s evidence, it is hard to see who will lead the charge.