JONATHAN WOODGATE’S competitive home debut as head coach did not go to plan as Middlesbrough suffered a 1-0 defeat to Brentford.

The Teessiders had two goals controversially chalked off, and were undone when Ollie Watkins tapped home at the start of the second half – what were the main debating points from the Riverside?


Woodgate was furious at the decision to disallow both of Ashley Fletcher’s first-half efforts, but directed his anger at the Football League rather than the officials, questioning why VAR has been introduced in the Premier League but not the Championship.

“We have the technology,” said Woodgate. “This is a massive league to get you into the big time, and we want to get out of this league. Are they saying the Championship is not as important as the Premier League? I don’t think that should be the case.

“VAR cuts out mistakes and blatant errors, and the officials need help at times. Everyone needs a bit of help. This was a massive game for us, but two bad decisions have cost us. We need to have VAR in the Championship, there’s still time for that to happen.”

Even Brentford boss Thomas Frank agreed. “I have not seen the two decisions, but if it is true that Fletcher is two yards onside, then that is not good enough,” he said. “Think how big the Championship is. It can’t be far away from being the fourth best league in the world, so VAR cannot be far away.”


Had the officials not wrongly intervened, Fletcher would have been walking off the pitch with three goals from his opening two Championship outings. A forgotten man under Garry Monk and Tony Pulis, the 23-year-old is clearly relishing playing with the handbrake off in Woodgate’s team.

“There are a few of us who for whatever reason haven’t quite done it here yet, but football is funny,” said Fletcher. “Things can change very quickly. You can go on a run of playing a few games and everything can change massively. It’s a quick turnaround. The manager has definitely given me a lot of confidence going into this new season, and I’m looking forward to working with him.

“I’ll be the first to hold my hand up, when I first came, I wasn’t great and I needed to toughen up and get my confidence back. Last season, I got it in the second half, and I’ve taken that into this season as well. The manager knows me from being around the club. He knows I’m always willing to work hard, and hopefully I’ll improve under him as well.”


He only arrived from Charlton last week, but Anfernee Dijksteel was thrown into the fray for his debut when he came off the bench to replace Adam Clayton for the final 15 minutes of the game.

The athletic 22-year-old fits the mould of what Jonathan Woodgate is trying to build with his Boro side, and it is surely only a matter of time before he dislodges Jonny Howson to become his side’s first-choice right-back.

Howson has looked solid in Boro’s opening two games, but he is a midfielder by trade and lacks the natural athleticism required to be an overlapping full-back. Dijksteel looks a much more natural fit and is likely to make his first Boro start when Crewe visit the Riverside in the first round of the Carabao Cup tomorrow.


As well as urging his players to be brave in possession, Woodgate wants them to hassle and harry their opponents high up the field. The effectiveness of the approach was apparent as Boro swarmed all over Brentford in the opening 45 minutes at the weekend.

Time and time again, Boro’s forwards players raced to close down Brentford’s defenders and goalkeeper as they looked to play the ball around at the back. On a number of occasions this resulted in a turnover in possession, and both Marvin Johnson and Britt Assombalonga fashioned decent chances as a direct result of a Brentford player being dispossessed close to the edge of their own box.

There will be downsides to the approach. In the second half, there were times when Boro were stretched, and Brentford’s incisive counter-attacking caused problems. However, Woodgate clearly feels it is a price worth paying, calculating his players will create more chances than they pass up if they continue to play on the front foot.