A LOT has changed in the last 12 months at Middlesbrough. Jonathan Woodgate has replaced Tony Pulis as head coach. Financial reality has bitten hard, resulting in the departure of some big-name players, and a new generation of youngsters has emerged to start to make its mark.

For Rudy Gestede, though, 2019 has been a complete non-event. Literally. Since the start of last December, Gestede has not made a single Championship appearance in a Middlesbrough shirt.

This time last year, he was battling his way back from injury and hoping to get a chance to prove himself in the first team. As he prepares to return to the squad for this afternoon’s game at Swansea City, he is in exactly the same position. Not, however, that Woodgate is about to give up on him.

“If we can play to Rudy’s strengths, it gives us something different,” said the Boro head coach, who has used Gestede off the bench on four occasions so far this season. “Playing with two up front, another one to partner him, it’s something different.

“You can’t give up on Rudy because he can help you, he can get you some points for the rest of the season. That’s a big learning point for me, don’t give up on players because they are here for a reason, they are good players, they don’t turn into bad players overnight. If Rudy stays fit, he’ll get an opportunity.”

It is easy to forget now, but when Pulis was appointed a little over two years ago, he started his reign with Gestede as his number one striker ahead of Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite and Patrick Bamford.

Gestede started Pulis’ first game in charge against Aston Villa, and was either a starter or a substitute in Boro’s next eight matches, culminating in a 3-1 victory over Hull City that saw him score two goals.

That should have been the cue for him to really kick on, but instead, it proved the precursor to a nightmare run of injuries that has seen the 31-year-old struggles with problems to his ankles, knees and hip.

He is just about back to full fitness now, having played for just over an hour of the Under-23s’ 5-3 defeat to Aston Villa on Monday night, and as he looks at the impact Andy Carroll has had at Newcastle United in the last few weeks, Woodgate is hoping Gestede can prove similarly effective.,

Like Carroll, the Benin international is an ‘old-fashioned’ centre-forward whose height and aerial prowess sets him apart from his team-mates. Like Carroll, his career has been ravaged by injury issues, but like his fellow forward 30 miles or so up the A19, he is determined to enjoy one last hurrah before his playing days come to an end.

“Tony loved how combative Rudy can be, and it’s easy to see why,” said Woodgate, “He’s a big lad, six foot, and he gives you something completely different. He’s something different to come off the bench or start games. Against Birmingham (in October), he came on in the last 15 (minutes) and made a difference.

“He hasn’t really had a run, he’s been injured quite often, which is difficult for anyone. It’s keeping Rudy fit, that’s the challenge, but he’s doing everything he can to remain fit.

“He’s a positive guy. He’s been no problem to me, he’s worked really hard in his rehabilitation.”

Indeed, such has been Gestede’s dedication and professionalism, Woodgate has used him as an example to inspire and tutor other players battling against their own injury setbacks.

“His attitude has always been really good,” he said. “When Marcus (Browne) was injured, we put them two together so Marcus could see what it’s like for a pro to really do his rehab and really get stuck into it and work as hard as he can.”