MIDDLESBROUGH climbed out of the relegation zone as Paddy McNair’s first-half finish secured a much-needed 1-0 win over Charlton.

The Teessiders are two points clear of the drop zone with nine games to play – what were the main debating points from the Valley?


Having spent most of the season playing with three centre-halves, Jonathan Woodgate reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation and a flat back four last month. Increasingly, it looks a wise decision.

Boro have not lost much of their defensive resilience with just two centre-halves, indeed with January signing Harold Mokoudi looking increasingly impressive and Adam Clayton restored as a midfield screen in front of the back four, it could be argued they look stronger at the back now than when they were playing with a five. Saturday’s clean sheet was their first since New Year’s Day.

An added benefit of the switch of systems is that Paddy McNair has been restored to his best position in midfield, Lewis Wing is playing in a more advanced role where it is easier for him to break into the box and Hayden Coulson has been reinvented as an attacking midfielder.


Woodgate insists his decision to drop Aynsley Pears was not a kneejerk response to last Monday’s late concession against Nottingham Forest, but more of a measured verdict on the youngster’s general performance levels as his maiden campaign draws to its end.

Either way, it was a big call given that his replacement, Dejan Stojanovic, had not played a single minute of senior football since joining Boro from St Gallen in January.

Woodgate could have gone with Thomas Mejias, who played in the FA Cup matches against Spurs, but his faith in Stojanovic was rewarded as the Macedonian produced an accomplished display. His best save saw him stick out a foot to deny Macauley Bonne in the second half.


Rudy Gestede tends to be something of a marmite footballer – some fans love his old-fashioned physicality, others bemoan his lack of technical talent. Woodgate selected him ahead of both Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher at the weekend, and Gestede responded with an extremely effective performance.

The 31-year-old was knocked here, there and everywhere by the Charlton defence, but constantly picked himself up to challenge for the next high ball.

He was the focal point of Boro’s attacking all afternoon, and delivered the neat square ball that set up McNair’s winner. Having returned to the starting line-up against Forest, he has claimed a goal and an assist in his last two games.


In this day and age, it is relatively unusual to see footballers taking the train to and from matches. Boro buck the trend though, regularly returning from London games on the East Coast mainline, and on Saturday night, Woodgate and his coaching staff joined the rest of the squad on the train to Darlington.

Leo Percovich could be seen wandering down the carriages, chatting freely with Middlesbrough supporters and spending part of the journey sitting with a group of young fans.

Woodgate was mobbed when he got off the train at Darlington, but handled himself superbly, happily signing autographs and posing for selfies. It seems a very simple thing, but if you’re a fan who has spent a fortune travelling to London, the fact your club’s manager is willing to take a few seconds to thank you for your support goes a long way.


While Middlesbrough clambered out of the relegation zone, Charlton replaced them in the bottom three, and on the evidence of their weekend performance, Lee Bowyer’s side are at serious risk of making a rapid return to League One.

The Addicks started the season strongly partly thanks to the momentum that had been generated by last season’s promotion and partly as a result of Lyle Taylor’s fine form in front of goal, but their fortunes have plummeted. Bowyer’s side have now won just four of their last 25 league games.