PRIOR to kick-off on Saturday, as Jonathan Woodgate strolled out of the Riverside tunnel to make his home Championship debut as Middlesbrough’s head coach, the ‘Red Faction’ supporters’ group unfurled a giant banner heralding the start of ‘A New Chapter’. That is how the afternoon should be billed, even if by the final whistle, it had ended in an all-too-familiar tale.

Middlesbrough created chances, missed them, and were undone when a defensive lapse proved costly. In that sense, it was as if Tony Pulis had never gone away. Yet in almost every other respect, this was still a new beginning. The result, a one-goal home defeat, was depressingly familiar, but that should not completely overshadow the encouraging signs that were evident as Woodgate’s players set about the challenge of drawing a line under the past.

For 45 minutes, the ‘new Middlesbrough’ were strutting their stuff. Take your pick of the moment you thought exemplified them most. Maybe it was Marvin Johnson, one of the forgotten men given a new lease of life under the new regime, hassling and harrying Ethan Pinnock on the edge of the Brentford area, robbing him of possession and drilling in a shot that David Raya turned around the post?

Perhaps it was Adam Clayton, playing 20 yards further up the field than he would ever have dared under Pulis, performing a similarly high press before setting up Britt Assombalonga for a first-half shot that thudded against the base of the post? Or was it youngster Hayden Coulson, promoted from the youth team and following up his promising debut display at Luton with another composed performance up and down the left flank?

As Woodgate had promised, Middlesbrough’s first-half display was full of pace, purpose and energy. Players strained every sinew to get into the opposition’s box. Shots rained in from distance. Brentford, one of the Championship’s most polished teams in possession, were barely able to get out of their own half. The shame, of course, is that the transformation from last season’s staid timidity counted for nothing.

Woodgate has had his say on the desperate performance of the officials, and while a flick through the highlights of Manchester City’s season-opener against West Ham might make him rethink his call for the Championship to follow the Premier League’s lead and introduce VAR, he is absolutely right when he claims two dreadful decisions completely transformed Saturday’s game.

The ball was nowhere near Ashley Fletcher’s hand when a panicked Julian Jeanvier nodded it into his own net after an out-of-position Raya had been caught out by Johnson’s smart quick corner, and Fletcher was at least a yard onside quarter-of-an-hour later when he raced on to Daniel Ayala’s through ball and lofted a neat finish into the net. Two perfectly legitimate goals; two horrendous calls from the assistant to rule them out. As Woodgate has quickly learned, you can make all the stylistic changes you want, but you can’t legislate for some awful officiating. Yet for 45 minutes, everything the Teessider had preached came to fruition.

“Different managers have different philosophies,” said Fletcher, who should really be reflecting on a haul of three goals from the opening two games. “Last year, it was tough as an attacking player, but at the same time, I still scored quite a few goals in the back end of the season under the different regime. Under this regime though, we’ve got more freedom and more of a licence to express ourselves, and hopefully the goals will come because of that.

“It’s definitely a different approach. I think we’re pressing teams higher up the pitch, which is enabling us to win the ball higher up the pitch and get more opportunities. Defensively, we can be a little bit stretched at times, but if you look at teams now even playing in the Premier League, that’s why there’s so many goals flying in.

“Last year, it was difficult, but this year, there’s a new philosophy. The manager has come in and given us a lot of confidence, especially me, Britt, Marvin, Marcus Browne, Marcus Tavernier and Rudy (Gestede). We’ve all been given that licence to go and express ourselves a bit more, and I think it shows in the play. Even at Luton, we were pressing the life out of the opposition, and you could see that in the first half here as well.”

That was the big positive. The negative was that Middlesbrough were unable to sustain that approach for the full 90 minutes and paid a high price for a tardy start to the second half that invited Brentford back into the game.

Having failed to threaten at all before the interval, the visitors created three excellent chances in the opening nine minutes of the second half and converted the latter, with Sergi Canos skipping past Ayala to cross from the right-hand side, leaving Ollie Watkins with the simple task of tapping home at the back post.

Middlesbrough heads didn’t exactly drop after the goal, but the composure that had coursed through their play in the first half completely disappeared and Brentford’s players were able to defend their advantage without too much fuss.

That is something for Woodgate to assess. Is it a fitness issue or one of confidence? Was there a lack of leadership as things became ragged in the second half? Either way, if Boro’s new approach is to work, it cannot be shelved as soon as things start to go wrong.

“I’m not sure (why things changed), I’ll have to look back on it,” said Woodgate. “They started the fresher of the two teams (in the second half) and they capitalised. In this league, you need to capitalise. If you don’t, they’ll get passages of play and could end up scoring. But I’m still very proud of my players.

“There are a few sloppy areas in starting positions which I’m not happy about, and decision making which I’m not happy about too. But we’ll move on.

“I said to the players, ‘It’s a long season, don’t get disheartened about it. Stay with what we’re doing’. These are our beliefs, and you can see they’re with me and believe what I’m doing.”

This was always going to be a work in progress, undertaken against a backdrop of harsh financial reality. It must not be forgotten that Boro only signed four players this summer, one of which is a back-up goalkeeper and the other three of which had never made a Championship appearance prior to moving to Middlesbrough.

At some stage, Woodgate will have to produce results as well as reasons to be positive. But for now, the hint of a new beginning is a decent enough start. A new chapter? Maybe not quite. But a reasonable enough prologue.