Having ended a run of 12 games without a win, including two matches in the FA Cup, before the break, Middlesbrough’s players know when the action does resume there will be a need to build on that success at Charlton.

It will be hoped the timing of the coronavirus outbreak has not affected things too much because confidence was clearly needed and finally arrived courtesy of that victory at the Valley.

Boro remain in relegation trouble. One win has only lifted Jonathan Woodgate’s men two points above the drop zone, so with 27 points still to play for then nothing will be taken for granted.

Not since the days of liquidation in 1986 have they dropped into the third tier of English football and that is a situation Woodgate will not want to have on his managerial record after just one season.

Many of the club’s fans, particularly the younger generation who have only followed the club since the Juninho and Fabrizio Ravanelli era at the Riverside during the 90s, will know nothing else than Premier League and Championship football.

And dropping into League One, like Sunderland have found, is certainly not an easy division to bounce straight back from when there is even less money around to boost the team.

Woodgate is not thinking about the drop, believing he has the players capable of staying up and he will be hopeful given only one of the remaining nine matches is against a team in with a serious chance of going up.

Games with Swansea, Hull and Stoke should already have been played, while there are three home dates pencilled in with the Swans and Hull as well as QPR, Bristol City and Cardiff should have a large bearing on Boro’s chances.


Woodgate and Boro might have made significant progress this season in tying down the club’s promising young guns, but there is still plenty of decisions to be made on the rest. While Marcus Tavernier, Djed Spence and Hayden Coulson have all penned new deals, the more experienced and higher earners are waiting to see what happens.

Boro have seven players with deals due to expire come the end of the season. There will clearly be discussions to be had with the authorities as to whether those can still play if the coronavirus-effect means the campaign has to run beyond the usual June 31 contract end.

As things stand, Woodgate has only really hinted that he expects Jonny Howson and George Friend of those to stay and sign new deals.

But whether those two will be happy to commit if Boro drop down remains to be seen, while the rest might have to wait to learn their fate when the season is nearing its end – perhaps even over.

Adam Clayton, Ryan Shotton, Daniel Ayala, Marvin Johnson and Rudy Gestede are all set to become free agents as things stand. Assuming that quintet average around £20,000-a-week, all combined, that would save the club around £5m-a-year off the wage bill.

And Boro have been tightening the club’s expenditure over the last 18 months, which has seen highly-paid players replaced by footballers whose experience was largely of League One.


The Spanish defender is arguably the club’s best defender, but he has not played since hobbling out of the win at Preston on New Year’s Day.

Woodgate has not put a timeframe on Ayala’s return to action, but presumably the coronavirus break should ensure he will be fit again by the time the action resumes.

There are two big issues with the 29-year-old: his fitness and the short time he has remaining on his contract.

Ayala has had plenty of interest in him in recent years because of his excellent performances, which had Tony Pulis label him as a Premier League defender plying his trade in the Championship.

Promotion contenders Leeds are known to have expressed an interest in him, for Ayala to stay, the likelihood is he will have to take a pay cut.

Given the injury problems he has had, Middlesbrough and Ayala will hope that the uncertainty surrounding his future will not have an impact on his performances in the run-in because he is needed.

Shotton, in a similar situation, has played well since his own recovery from injury and he has started to link up well with Harold Moukoudi at the back. There is also the option of Dael Fry playing again after the break, but Ayala would still command a starting spot if he was at his best and fully fit.

Woodgate has played with three in defence and a back four this year, so the return of Ayala would increase his options at a time when Shotton and Moukoudi are being relied upon to stay away from injury trouble.

Whether Ayala stays beyond this season, though, seems more unlikely.


There will come a point in the weeks ahead when Woodgate will have to make plans for next season, regardless of what division they are in.

Woodgate has outlined from day one since taking over from Pulis that he wants his side to play in a certain way – with a high press and an exciting brand of football.

There have been signs of that this season but as more games have gone by, it has become more about getting results than the performances. Going forward, the head coach wants to see both.

He will have learned plenty of lessons, and about himself as a coach during his first season in charge, and that is likely to mean he will do certain things differently.

Woodgate has had a young coaching team around him too, so they have all had to learn things along the way. They will now have an idea of what does and what doesn’t work ahead of a summer when Robbie Keane, Woodgate’s assistant, is likely to decide whether he will stay for a second year.


Once Boro know whether they will be heading to Blackburn or Accrington next season, a decision will have to be made from the top as to how strongly the club will attack promotion.

Due to financial fair play constraints, chairman Steve Gibson is restricted in what he can now do to help such a push in terms of cash because there are no longer any parachute payments coming from the Premier League.

But Gibson has proven before he can turn things around, but cutting things back to a point where it is about a rebuild comes first. Tony Mowbray managed to lay the foundations in such a way before Aitor Karanka was brought in to take them to a different level.

Now Woodgate is overseeing the team during tighter times, and the challenge is on for him to keep Middlesbrough in the Championship. If he can do that then his next challenge will be to bring in the right sort of player to improve the squad, even though it will mean targeting the free agent market and low cost buys in the hope of coming up with a hidden gem.

There is an acceptance from within the club that the recruitment has not been right in recent seasons, which is largely why they have had to pay the price with this season’s battle to beat the drop.

Adrian Bevington, lost his job having been tasked with improving that earlier this season, but it would be wrong to just point the finger at him. Middlesbrough need to come up with a a better plan than they had before his arrival if things are to improve.