GARETH SOUTHGATE has had plenty on his plate this week as England boss, having had to deal with the fall-out from Raheem Sterling and Joe Gomez’s canteen run-in at St George’s Park, so the trials and tribulations of suffering relegation at Middlesbrough is sure to have helped his approach.

And Gary O’Neil, a former team-mate of Southgate’s from his time working under him at Middlesbrough, believes the national team boss’ time at the Riverside Stadium will have stood him in good stead for what he is encountering now – even if he didn’t see his rise to the top coming.

That is not to say O’Neil doesn’t think his former manager will do a good job for the longer term, because he thinks it was a clever move by the Football Association to appoint someone who had a strong relationship with the players coming through.

Southgate actually signed the 36-year-old from Portsmouth during Middlesbrough’s Premier League days but both slipped out of the top tier in 2009, with relegation and a failure to take Boro to the top of the Championship leading to his departure in the October.

O’Neil was still part of that Middlesbrough squad which then saw Gordon Strachan take over for a year, and he remained on Teesside until 2011 with his memories of working under Southgate still strong.

“The way Gareth goes about things is very simple. He’s a really decent guy and he doesn’t try to be anything other than that,” O’Neil said in an exclusive interview with online bookmakers 888sport.

“You can see that in his management. And that’s why he’s done so well: because he’s just stuck to what he is and who he is. He is intelligent and he’s honest and he will do anything for his group of players. His players respect that.

“When it went the way it did at Middlesbrough if someone had asked me if he could be England manager in eight or nine years you’d think probably not because that’s a big turn-around.

“But the quality of the young players coming through has lent itself to someone who knows the youth from his time with the under-21s.

“Football has changed so much nowadays and the average ages of teams are getting younger and younger and Gareth just found himself at that perfect point where England needed to go in a new direction and he found himself guiding the young players coming through. It was a perfect storm and he’s done a fantastic job. I’m really pleased for him.”

Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson gambled with the appointment of former captain Southgate when Steve McClaren departed after the UEFA Cup final in 2006. And like when he named Bryan Robson, Aitor Karanka and now Jonathan Woodgate, Gibson has shown he is not afraid to give young coaches a chance.

Woodgate is arguably facing the biggest challenge of all of those given the change in financial climate at the Riverside, with Middlesbrough now battling to stay in the Championship rather than dreaming of a return to the Premier League.

“It is tricky because sides are just very unforgiving and there is no such thing as an easy game,” said O’Neil, who left Bolton after relegation last season and is still looking for a new club.

“They fight to the end. They’re all played at 100 per cent and Middlesbrough need to dig themselves out of this because there is no looking at fixtures and thinking ‘we should get three points from that one’ in the Championship. But in Woodgate and Robbie Keane they have some very experienced guys who have been through a lot in their playing career so they’ll know what the lads are going through and how to help them. I’m sure they’ll be OK. They have January so they might be able to add a bit here and there.”

Middlesbrough are still in the bottom three and a point adrift of Luton Town above them, mainly due to the fact there is no other team in the division who have scored fewer this season. O’Neil, though, feels Woodgate deserves to be given a greater chance to get things right.

“I think they need to give him more time,” said ONeil. “They’ve obviously decided that he is the man for them and even though he’s very young managerial-wise he did have the experience of working under Tony Pulis last year.

“I just think that clubs need to be very careful with always changing. There has obviously been a huge cut in the budget so Jonathan Woodgate is not working with the same budget others had in previous years and with that has come a drop-off in performances and points return. I hope that Middlesbrough give him longer.

“It would be devastating if they were to go down and they clearly need to get themselves out of danger but if he can do his bit and keep them safe they need to then give him longer because he’s doing well there with the younger lads. You can’t have a 14-week cycle of ripping things up and starting again because in another 14 weeks what do you do?

“There are two sides to this. Woodgate has to do his part and produce the best that he can with what he’s got while the club needs to give him time. Relegation though is unthinkable for Middlesbrough and you could never imagine them in League One so let’s hope he can turn it around.”

Read the full 888sport interview with Gary O’Neil here