WHEN Jonathan Woodgate was asked about the resumption of football last week, he expressed his relief that the Championship season was going to be played out on the pitch rather than prematurely ended, as has been the case in Leagues One and Two. One can’t help wonder whether he still feels the same way now.

Had the second tier been halted when coronavirus struck, Boro would have been guaranteed another season in the Championship. Repeat their comeback performance in their remaining eight matches, and they will almost certainly find themselves in League One. Only out of the relegation zone on goal difference, things really are that stark.

Having waited more than three months to return to competitive action, it took Boro just 33 minutes to capitulate entirely. The concession of three first-half goals – it would have been five had Aldo Kalulu and Rhian Brewster not spurned a glorious chance each before the deadlock was broken – smacked of the kind of wholesale defensive disorganisation that should surely have been addressed in the lengthy build-up to the game.

Boro’s back four looked like statuesque strangers as Brewster in particular ran amok in the first half, and while the absence of illness victim Harold Mokoudi was something of a mitigating factor, Woodgate will have to think long and hard before he ponders his selection for this weekend’s trip to relegation rivals Stoke. Right across the pitch on Saturday, his calls failed to come off.

A return to five at the back has to be an option, even if numbers are tight. Ryan Shotton and Dael Fry had their limitations repeatedly exposed by Swansea’s mobile, incisive attack, with the former, who was one of five soon-to-be-out-of-contract players to start at the weekend, withdrawn at the interval, presumably in an attempt to avoid further embarrassment.

George Friend was equally out of sorts, slipping over early on to afford Kalulu a clean run on goal before tripping Conor Gallagher in a frantic attempt to get back on the right side of the attacking midfielder, an infringement which resulted in the penalty which saw Andre Ayew score Swansea’s third goal. Brewster had already found the net twice by then, exploiting a surfeit of space in the 18-yard box to convert a cross from either flank.

With Jonny Howson’s lack of pace being repeatedly exposed before he was shuffled inside as an emergency centre-half, Boro’s defence was found wanting time and time again. Djed Spence might be erratic and Hayden Coulson might have been moved upfield in the last few matches, but when stationed at wing-back, at least the youngsters provide Boro’s rearguard with some speed and energy.

Things were no better further up the field, with Woodgate’s decision to start Rudy Gestede and Lukas Nmecha ahead of Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Patrick Roberts misfiring badly.

Given that Roberts has only just recovered from a six-month injury lay-off, a degree of caution is understandable. There is no such excuse for naming Assombalonga and Fletcher on the bench though, or for waiting until the 69th minute to introduce them as the last of Boro’s five permitted substitutes.

Whatever Woodgate’s worries about them, the pair have contributed 14 league goals this season. Gestede and Nmecha have scored a combined total of two and never looked like adding to that tally at the weekend.

The fact that Boro’s first attempt on target - a tame long-range effort from Friend - came in stoppage time says it all. On Teesside, Project Restart has well and truly stalled.