JONATHAN WOODGATE has already tried a few different things in Middlesbrough’s midfield, and he will try more without the prospect of more new faces coming in before the end of the year.

But Paddy McNair, the former Sunderland midfielder, is finally enjoying a new lease of life at the Riverside, where Woodgate has given him the confidence to suggest he can be one of the constants under him this season.

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Millwall, when the 24-year-old broke from midfield to score his first goal for the Teessiders, was only his 12th start in the Championship since making the £5m move from North Sea neighbours Sunderland.

It’s quite a staggering figure given how he was hailed as the man signed by Tony Pulis to do exactly that in the summer of last year, with the former Boro boss believing he could be the missing link between midfield and attack.

It was a belief based on his time at Sunderland where, despite injury problems and back-to-back relegations, he showed when he was fit he had the attacking intent to break through defences.

Having finally got off the mark in a Middlesbrough shirt and playing in a role he prefers, McNair will be keen for that to kick-start his career after a few difficult years – and his team-mates are already appreciative of what he offers.

Jonny Howson, who is playing right-back now after years of being known as an attacking-midfielder himself, said: “I think Paddy’s very good, he’s a great lad too. Obviously last season was frustrating for Paddy but I think it’s a testament to himself that he kept going, he kept working hard and I’m pleased he’s getting rewards.

“You can see what he’s doing now, he’s coming into it and getting that little bit of confidence back. Regards to playing with him I think we are similar sort of characters and players so I’ve got an idea of what he likes to do and vice-versa.”

The goal he scored against Millwall saw him break through the middle of the pitch before dispatching beyond the goalkeeper with a strong finish in the second half after he had been spotted making the run by Ashley Fletcher.

Howson added: “It was a terrific goal, Fletch turned with it, drove forward and that’s one of Paddy’s strengths driving forward from midfield, breaking into the box. It was a good ball and calm head to finish it as well.

“Certainly in the second half Paddy did that a couple of times. There were two or three times when he was driving into the box, committing players and the more he can do that the better for himself and the team.”

Sunderland supporters familiar with McNair will know he showed that sort of willingness to attack when he was fit at the Stadium of Light, even though opportunities were limited.

But the former Manchester United man, who can play in a variety of positions and was used as a wing-back and centre-backs by Pulis on the occasions he did get a call-up, has started every game for Middlesbrough in the league this season.

“You have to have a change of plan in mind at times,” said Woodgate, whose side travel to Bristol City on Saturday looking for a second league win. “Sometimes you need to match teams up and see the game out.

Middlesbrough have stuttered, with Woodgate looking to change a lot without having huge amounts of money to spend.

“I think it will take the new players a bit of time, it’s a new league a new environment for them, a totally new area for them,” said Woodgate, referring to Anfernee Dijsksteel, Marc Bola and Marcus Browne. “They are still young kids, 20, 21, 22, from London and they probably haven’t been out of the area much apart from Bola who went to Blackpool. It’s going to take time.”