DURING a period of financial realignment and a change of approach at Middlesbrough, there was another example of the size of the challenge facing Jonathan Woodgate this week when a home crowd for a league game the Riverside Stadium dipped below 20,000 again.

It was the first time since the early days of Aitor Karanka’s first full season in charge that the Riverside Stadium had recorded a figure around the 18,000 mark for a Championship game at the Riverside.

There are many contributory factors for that. And while Sky Sports’ red button service, highlighted by Jonathan Woodgate as one of the reasons, is undoubtedly something to consider, it would be silly to ignore the fact that the drop is also a reflection of a hangover from the last couple of years of football on Teesside.

Now the challenge facing Woodgate is to bring the sort of football back to his hometown club that will help to bring some of the fans back, even if he will have to deliver with less money flying around than many of his predecessors have had.

“I think that’s the red button isn’t it? The red button’s killing the game, it’s killing attendances at the football clubs, it’s killing it. But then you can look on the other hand (and ask) what’s cheaper?” said Woodgate.

“Middlesbrough hasn’t got all the resources and people find it hard to come from work and I totally understand that. Our job’s to try to get these fans in the stadium. But the red button – you can watch the game on telly in your armchair.

“That is a challenge we are facing and as I said regarding Sky and the red button situation it is a challenge. But it’s up to me to make it happen and to get the fans back in the stadium, that’s what I’ve got to do.”

Woodgate, having grown up in the early days of the Riverside era and then looked out for his hometown team during his playing career, has experienced exactly what it is like to be at a full and vibrant stadium.

Attendances had taken a drop during his four-year playing spell with Middlesbrough before retiring in 2016, the year after there was an increase because of the surge to the play-offs where they lost to Norwich City at Wembley.

The promotion year followed under Karanka before packed Riversides became the norm again for the one season back in the Premier League, and since relegation numbers have been on the decline once more.

Woodgate said: “It’s a great feeling when the Riverside is bouncing, those Premier League games, the Karanka regime, it was buzzing the town, people constantly were asking me to get tickets.

“I want it back like that. I want the area to be buzzing again and on a real high but it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take time and that’s where we need to be patient. I’m sure it will end up getting like that at some part.”

But he also feels that Middlesbrough’s supporters appreciate where the club is right now, after his first summer when he has had to try to tinker with his squad with limited funds available.

“The fans are not stupid they know what the crack is and what we’re working on, Middlesbrough fans know their football, they’re like the Scousers,” said Woodgate. “People can’t pull wool over their eyes, they know what is happening so they will stay with us and they will be patient.”

It would be a surprise to see Middlesbrough record an attendance of much more than 22,000 today against Millwall, as Woodgate looks to enjoy a second win in a row having claimed a first competitive win under his watch on Tuesday. He has suggested he will be making a couple of changes to freshen things up, even if George Friend and Hayden Coulson remain unavailable.