“FOOTBALL - bloody hell,’ Sir Alex Ferguson famously exclaimed after Manchester United oh so dramatically clinched the Treble in Barcelona.

While it might not have been of such seismic proportions, Middlesbrough head coach Jonathan Woodgate’s decision to appoint Dael Fry as his skipper for the trip to Bristol City, elicited a similar response.

Woodgate had made a childhood dream come true for 22-year-old centre-half Fry who was left stunned as he prepared to make his return to frontline duties after a length lay-off due to a hamstring injury sustained in a training session last April.

And while the candid captain blamed himself for his team’s failure to secure Woodgate a first Championship win away from Teesside, he was still beaming with pride following a momentous trip to Ashton Gate.

“All the hard work, coming in to the academy at seven years old, to captain your football club, it’s what dreams are made of,” Fry said. “And it all came as such a shock. I was just about to walk onto the bus and the gaffer said, ‘Dael you’re captain tomorrow’.

“I just said, ‘All right, fine’, then I sat down and thought, ‘Bloody hell’. I had Wingy (Lewis Wing) laughing at me.

“I told my mam and dad straight away and they were delighted. I told my friends and I was flooded with messages.

“But it didn’t really hit me until I was walking out onto the pitch, seeing the fans and knowing my family were all watching on television back home. It was a real honour.”

A former Cleveland Juniors player, Fry, who was brought up in Berwick Hills, relished leadership as much as he is savouring playing under Woodgate.

“The gaffer, who’s had injuries, wasn’t rushing me back, he was saying, ‘Take your time’, and for me that was amazing,” Fry continued.

“He’s really good with the young lads. He’s always talking to them, if they make a mistake, he’s telling them what to do next time.

“I know I was at fault for one or two of the Bristol goals so I’m sure he’ll have me in showing me the videos of it.

“For me to have that guidance, I can only improve. We’re blessed to have him here and I know we’ll start clicking defensively.”

Under Woodgate’s tutelage, Fry has clearly put his time-off to good use, judging by his post-match comments.

“When someone gets injured for a long time, people say you come back stronger,” Fry added.

“I thought it was a cliché, but it’s true. It’s given me chance to focus on other things - I’ve just changed simple things, my diet and stuff in the gym.

“I have to admit the first week was the hardest for me because I knew I’d miss the Euros with the England Under-21s.

“But it’s built me as a person, it’s helped me mature and I’ve taken a lot of positives from it.

“I feel a lot stronger and more powerful and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”

It was as if he’d never been away as Fry eased his way back into senior action in the West Country.

It helps that his stylish defending is reminiscent of the imperious manner in which Woodgate plied his trade for Boro, Leeds and Newcastle.

A combination of silk and steel, despite showing the odd patch of rustiness, Fry’s display was a reminder of why Boro owner Steve Gibson rejected Burnley’s £8m offer for the crocked defender over the summer.

That Boro gave as good as they got throughout a thrilling encounter with in-form City was largely down to Fry and Ryan Shotton and the solid central defensive backbone they provided.

By his own admission, though, Fry turned off for a split second just before the break, allowing Kasey Palmer to break the deadlock and Boro were up against it.

The pressure intensified after the break as the Robins upped the ante in pursuit of a decisive blow and less resolute teams would have capitulated but Woodgate’s Boro are made of resilient stuff.

The stubborn, unflustered Fry and Shotton held firm and Woodgate’s attack-minded team were soon in the ascendancy again, with Lewis Wing and Adam Clayton taking command of the midfield trenches.

And there was no stopping the outstanding Paddy McNair who combined sterling defensive duties – aside from the opening goal - with eye-catching overlapping play to force the Taylor Moore own-goal leveler.

While Fry rose to the challenge of stifling the City attack, the home defence was no match for Britt Assombalonga, who put Boro on course for victory with a low drive, capping an eventful week as his wife gave birth to a son, August, on Thursday.

“He was a real, real handful and those two centre-halves won’t fancy playing Britt again,” Woodgate said. “His wife should have babies more often to be honest with you because he was really good.”

Unfortunately, for the 700-plus travelling fans, there was a sting in the tail as Tommy Rowe capitalised on yet more ponderous defending to equalise.

“It’s a shame we couldn’t get that victory but I’ll keep the shirt and armband as well, put it in my room or something like that,” Fry said. “It was amazing day for me and I know we’ll build on a good point.”