STICKING with the process have been the watchwords at the Riverside Stadium during a difficult few months, and the signs are that Jonathan Woodgate is getting somewhere in what he intends to do.

All of a sudden that 4-0 thumping at Leeds United at the end of November looks like something of a turning point, and for all the right reasons rather than the date when things turned sour. Who would have thought that at Elland Road?

Middlesbrough have lost just one of their six matches since and that was only the result of some poor decision making at Swansea City when Marcus Browne and Paddy McNair were both sent off.

Aside from the club making a change off the pitch, with Adrian Bevington stepping down from his head of recruitment operations role, Woodgate has instilled a work ethic and youthful exuberance to his side’s play that has won over the fans too.

While there is undoubtedly plenty of work still to be done by the rookie head coach in terms of leading this largely inexperienced group through harsher financial times than Middlesbrough has had to face in recent years, he has proven there is talent from within to take the club forward.

Three wins on the bounce over the festive period has lifted Middlesbrough nine points clear of the bottom three, heartening even the most concerned and pessimistic of supporter with the way they have gone about their business too.

There have been some signs of how Woodgate has wanted his team to develop, with the fluid Ashley Fletcher goal against Hull when he linked up well with Britt Assombalonga the perfect case in point.

But having outlined at the beginning of the season how he wanted Middlesbrough to play with a more attacking brand of football, he soon found that it was not as easy to implement given the circumstances he was faced with.

Not only have the summer recruits, all effectively from League One, taken more time to prove themselves than he would have hoped, he has been hit with injuries to key and experienced members of the squad he would have relied on like Darren Randolph and George Friend.

Very rarely, if ever, has Woodgate moaned about the situation and has tried to find a way to turn things around, despite having an inexperienced coaching team alongside him that has looked like it could have done with an older-wiser head with him.

But in keeping the squad united and behind his approach, Woodgate has explored ways of mixing things up and taken gambles along the way … some of them enforced. And they have paid off of late.

Djed Spence is the perfect example. Despite apparent reservations about his laid-back approach around the training ground, Woodgate threw him in and he has not looked back. Not only did he impress as an attack-minded wing-back, he was used more as a winger in a change of system at West Brom.

Spence, aged just 19, has not been on a losing Middlesbrough side since starting the win against Charlton on December 7, and that was five matches ago, securing four wins.

Then down the other side Hayden Coulson continues to prove why he was handed his debut against Luton on the opening night of the season with starring displays of pace and determination down the line.

There must have been question marks over handing youngster Aynsley Pears the shirt in goal when Darren Randolph sustained injury, but 11 Championship appearances later he has kept six clean sheets. The 21-year-old is showing there could well be life after Randolph should he leave next month.

Woodgate is looking to get both Spence and Pears tied down to new deals – like they did with Coulson last week - and the sooner the better given their existing terms are entering their final stages.

Lewis Wing has looked re-energised since he was given a bit of a break to recover from injury, while Woodgate needs to be applauded for other decisions in this recent revival that many would not have seen coming.

Who expected Jonny Howson to become one of the most important performers as a versatile defender? Or how about changing a system that had been working so well just a day or two before heading to league leaders West Brom and asking young lads to change roles?

Woodgate not only did that, the decision reaped the rewards. It was capped off by one of the finest goals from Fletcher than you will see in world football this year and next.

The Middlesbrough boss could easily change things at Preston tomorrow once again, but the sheer fact he is considering such moves highlights a growing confidence in his players and his own methods.

Nothing has changed in terms of January, however. Woodgate wants new arrivals and if successful then that could provide an even greater boost at a time when things are looking much healthier.

He is interested in bringing former academy player Jordan Jones back to the Riverside on loan from Rangers, where Woodgate is using his links with Steven Gerrard to get a deal done. While he clearly needs reinforcements in other areas too, highlighted by how inexperienced his substitute options have been.

But Woodgate - whose level of tinkering could depend largely on if anyone is sold, like £5m rated Randolph – will not want to stop the development of his own youth either.

Things might not be perfect at Middlesbrough right now, but Woodgate is certainly learning and suddenly there are a far more signs of encouragement for fans to be enthused by than there was before.