RUDY GESTEDE could complete a marked transformation in fortunes if he keeps Ashley Fletcher and Britt Assombalonga out of the Middlesbrough side this afternoon, with head coach Jonathan Woodgate paying tribute to the striker’s reaction to criticism from the fans.

Gestede has had a torrid time at the Riverside Stadium since arriving from Aston Villa in a £6m deal in January 2017, with injury and poor form failing to ignite his time at the Riverside Stadium.

That has led to him having to endure abuse from certain supporters on numerous occasions, including recently when he was targeted by a fan as he left the pitch during the defeat at Barnsley having only been introduced as a late substitute.

The 31-year-old admitted in an interview with The Northern Echo earlier this week that things have not gone to plan for him since moving to Teesside. And, ahead of becoming a free agent in the summer, Gestede is desperate to avoid leaving on a sour note with relegation added to his CV.

Woodgate thinks Gestede deserves a break from his critics, believing the Benin international can have a huge part to play between now and the end of the season because of his presence and desire to do well in a Middlesbrough shirt during the run-in.

“When footballers have a pride about themselves and people write them off and slag them off then it’s a different ball game,” said Woodgate.

“If any player’s got a bit about themselves they come out fighting and to be honest with you that’s what Rudy’s done. And fair play to him because maybe some players down tools and say ‘f*** you I’m not ar***’ but he hasn’t.”

Gestede has only worked under Woodgate since the summer and he has not started regularly. On the few occasions he has he has scored in the win at Preston on New Year’s Day – Middlesbrough’s last win – and then headed in during the 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest on Monday night.

Woodgate said: “From day one since I’ve been in the building his attitude has been very, very good. OK I had a conversation with him when I left him out of the squad the other week (for the Leeds game), he wasn’t too happy - I wouldn’t be (either). But how he reacted the next day in the changing room supporting the players and looking at me and supporting me was fantastic.

Woodgate continued: “As long as you are honest with your players and tell them they will get more chances. When they get that chance they’ve got to take it and Rudy played well and scored a goal.”

Assombalonga and Fletcher missed the visit of Forest because of illness and a hamstring problem, respectively speaking, so Gestede has placed himself in the head coach’s thoughts for the crucial game with relegation rivals Charlton.

“Rudy does want to do well, he wants to keep on going,” said Woodgate. "He’s out of contract at the end of the season, he wants to keep on pushing and doing well. The way you saw him the other day he’s a handful, he’s difficult to play against.

“Like I say he’s done well, he’s played three games and scored two goals, one against Preston, one against Forest and he played against Fulham so he’s been good. He’s scored two in three really and needs more time on the pitch.”

Middlesbrough have looked better of late but remain winless in ten. Assombalonga, who has only scored six this season, has not found the net in 2020.

Woodgate said: “Britt would have scored more over that Christmas period. He will score goals. I could play two strikers against Charlton I might play one against Charlton. I might play one behind Rudy, I might play two up top. I’m sure Lee Bowyer will be reading my comments."