JONATHAN WOODGATE has backed Robbie Keane to play a leading role in transforming the fortune of Middlesbrough’s misfiring strikers.

Boro head to Derby County this afternoon looking to end a three-game goalless run that has seen both Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher miss gilt-edged chances.

The pair have scored just five goals between them this season from a combined total of 28 Championship appearances, and neither has found the net since Assombalonga was credited with applying the finishing touch to Boro’s scrambled equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Preston at the start of last month.

Keane has been working with Boro’s centre-forwards since his appointment as the club’s assistant manager at the start of the summer, and Woodgate is confident his efforts will soon begin reaping rewards.

The 39-year-old, who is also Mick McCarthy’s assistant with the Republic of Ireland, scored more than 300 senior goals in a career that saw him represent the likes of Leeds United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Inter Milan with distinction.

“With his pedigree, Robbie can be a big help with our strikers,” said Woodgate. “He has been there and done it. He can appreciate at times what they are going through and what it will be like for them mentally as players. So, he’s got good experience that way.

“Robbie’s working as hard as he can on the training pitches. There’s not many more shooting sessions we can do. I truly believe it will come for us. If you keep working and putting the hours in, it will change. But it’s not just the strikers. Daniel Ayala, Paddy McNair, George Saville - if they get in front of goal, can they score? It’s not just about the strikers.”

Like Woodgate, Keane is embarking on his first coaching role at club level, having only retired from playing in November 2018.

It is unusual for two coaches lacking any previous experience to be paired together at Championship level, but Woodgate refutes the suggestion that a lack of knowhow in the dug-out has contributed to Boro’s poor start to the season.

While Woodgate has never previously managed, he worked with the first team under Tony Pulis last season, and Keane acted as a player-manager in India while assisting McCarthy with Ireland.

In addition, Woodgate can lean on Leo Percovich, who was a key part of the backroom team that worked under Aitor Karanka as Boro won promotion to the Premier League in 2016.

“As a management team, we are young, but in terms of football, we have a lot of experience,” said Woodgate. “We’ve both been in the game since we were teenagers. Keano made his debut at 17, I was 18, so there are a lot of experiences in there.

“Robbie has worked in the international set-up with the Republic of Ireland too, but it’s not just the two of us. I have Leo there who has been at this club when it was successful, Danny Coyne, who has previously been a manager and assistant manager. They have that experience as well, it’s not just about me and Robbie.

“It’s me, Robbie, Leo, Danny, Frankie (Hunter (sports science) JT (John Thrower, rehab coach), we are all in this together and we all have different ways and experiences with the team.”

Woodgate is set to name an unchanged starting line-up this afternoon, with neither Darren Randolph nor George Friend ready to return to first-team duty.

Paddy McNair is expected to remain in the back five, having performed creditably after his positional switch for the game with Fulham.

Middlesbrough (probable, 5-1-3-1): Pears; Howson, Fry, Ayala, McNair, Coulson; Wing; Saville, Tavernier, Fletcher; Assombalonga.