YOUTHFUL Middlesbrough might be a long way from defeating the belief that ‘you don’t win anything with kids’, but Hayden Coulson is convinced the more the merrier as they look to climb to Championship safety this season.

It has already been a slog for Jonathan Woodgate’s first season in charge at Boro given the financial cutbacks is working under and the club’s drive to develop its own footballing identity on and off the pitch.

But after losing just one of their last nine matches, Middlesbrough have started to climb the table and Tuesday’s draw at Nottingham Forest has secured a four point gap to the relegation zone.

Clearly that challenge is far from over but, in having to rely so heavily on academy graduates in recent weeks to boost squad numbers, Woodgate has seen an improvement in results and performances with confidence growing among the young group.

Coulson started the season impressively and was forced to fall away because of injury. He has since been in and out of the team and he has performed strongly against Forest and Charlton in the last two outings down the left side.

He was one of five starters from the Middlesbrough academy at Forest, along with Aynsley Pears, Dael Fry, Djed Spence and Marcus Tavernier. Stephen Walker made it six to have figured after appearing as a substitute.

Nathan Wood, Ben Liddle and Tyrone O’Neill all made the bench again, just ten days after the latter two made their first team debuts in the defeat at leaders Leeds United. While a relegation scrap might not seem to be the ideal grounding, that crop of locally produced players is having an impact on the rest of the squad.

“I think the gaffer (Woodgate) makes all the young lads comfortable,” said Coulson. “He said at the start he would give everyone an opportunity, and if they take it, then they take it.

Coulson, who made his debut at Luton on the opening night of the EFL in August, said: “He’s a comfortable manager. You can easily go and speak to him about anything, and it’s great for the young lads because he believes in them.

“It’s great having so many of us coming through at the same time. We’ve all come from a similar age group, and there’s a group of us that are between 19 and 21 years old. It’s a great bunch of lads, and it’s just good to see everyone coming through together.  “We can bounce ideas and thoughts off each other, and it definitely made it easier when it came to moving into the first-team dressing room.  “Obviously, all the experienced lads are really good lads with us, but it was that bit easier knowing there were a few younger ones in there and a few familiar faces you knew right away. If you needed to go and talk to anyone, you were able to do that.”

The ‘identity’ that Middlesbrough spoke about after Tony Pulis was sacked at the end of last season was always going to rely heavily on developing the youth.  But after signing fellow young players such as Anfernee Dijksteel, Marc Bola and Marcus Browne in the summer, it did look like some of Middlesbrough’s own academy graduates might have been overlooked.

Coulson and Co have rubbished that theory, though, even if injuries to a number of more experienced players have strengthened their chances.  The 21-year-old, who had loan spells with St Mirren and Cambridge, said: “I had a little hamstring problem myself (before Tuesday), but had a scan and got the all-clear and everything was fine. It was good to get back into it after that, especially last Saturday, which was a great game.  “Then following on with the draw at Forest was good, and we go again on Saturday at Swansea and try to take all three points there.

“It’s all probably taken me a bit by surprise to be honest. I think I started off well in pre-season and the gaffer knows what I’m capable of, I just need to believe in myself and keep doing it. I’m trying my best to show what I can do, but I’m sure there’s a bit more to come hopefully.

“I’m loving it. Last season I went out on loan, and to be honest, it wasn’t a great spell. But then the gaffer came in and believed in me, and hopefully I’ve proved him right.”

With George Friend sidelined for the majority of pre-season and Woodgate eyeing up playing the skipper in the middle, Coulson found himself playing in the summer and his season has grown since then.

He said: “I just knew from pre-season. In the off-season I had to graft and make sure I was fit. From pre-season I started really well and continued that at the beginning of the season.  “Unfortunately I got injured in the second game but I feel as though I bounced back from that. The manager always believed in me. Last year was tougher to grab the opportunity but he's always believed in me.”

Woodgate was famously part of a brilliant Leeds team as a teenager when he was given the chance to shine by David O’Leary. That has helped persuade the head coach to give youth a chance now at Middlesbrough, provided they are up to it.

“There was word going around that he'd get it in the summer, nothing was set in stone but when it was confirmed I was over the moon because he had believed in me for a few years. I thought I need to make a point now and prove myself,” said Coulson.

And to have been part of the largely inexperienced Middlesbrough side that battled back to earn a point at promotion chasers Nottingham Forest bodes well too.  Coulson, after witnessing Paddy McNair level things from the spot on Tuesday, added: “I thought the point was well deserved.  “It was tough after going a goal down, especially with the way they were playing out wide, they had a few chances, but we ground it out and got the point and I thought it was fully deserved.

“It was completely different to Saturday – a completely different formation to play against. It was a lot more defending, I’d say a lot more graft and not as much going forward. But I think I did what I could and the team did well.

“I think the change (in formation) in the game made the game so much easier for everyone. As you could tell, they were a threat out wide, but we went to a back four and squeezed everyone in. We kept compact, and I think the formation helped massively.

“I feel as though we said, ‘We’re not under any pressure, we’re away from home, let’s just come out and do what we can’. It was a fully-deserved point in the end.”