If you were to say just four months ago that fringe figure Paddy McNair would become an invaluable part of Middlesbrough’s matchday fold, I’d have told you to keep off the booze.
But now, the Ballyclare battler has become exactly that – and boy have Boro needed it.
His tenacity to spearhead the charge from midfield to attack has become ever more potent in Woodgate’s new look side.
He is the outlet in a midfield that in previous regimes has struggled to get into gear. He is the oil to the once rusted cogs in the middle of the park.
Tony Pulis didn’t see what we’re currently seeing, because he didn’t give him an opportunity to. He made just 10 league starts under Pulis. Ten.Embed from Getty Images
It’s a stark contrast to his situation now. Indeed, if you were to ask fans to pick out three top performers from the season so far, it’s guaranteed McNair would be the name on everybody’s list.
Boro’s reliance on the right-hand side is largely down to the Northern Irishman. Not forgetting to reinvigorated Marvin Johnson, who too has emerged from the shadows like a new signing.
The two, combined with the right-back, whether it be Howson or Dijksteel, are turning into a troublesome trio for the opposition.
McNair’s runs into the inside right channel create space for his teammates, his movement is providing Boro with options in attack – something they were bereft of last season.
Statistically, McNair has impressed as well. He ranks high in the shooting, passing, dribbling and defending charts. (all via WhoScored)
Paddy McNair – stats so far:
- 2.6 shots per game (joint most along with Assombalonga and Wing)
- 192 accurate short passes (only Clayton has more)
- 6 interceptions (most from any Boro midfielder)
- 70% dribble success rate
- 7 key passes
He’s enjoying his football and it’s evident from the stands. Although a work in progress, Woodgate’s new style is already making a difference – and that deserves credit.
“Last year we had such a boring style of play, we were so negative,” said McNair. “Now we are playing positive again so I think there is always a bit of a transition.
“It’s going to take a few games to play that way but everyone is enjoying it and we are all looking forward to the games ahead.
“I’m really enjoying it, the style of football we are playing compared to last year’s is completely different. Everyone is enjoying so that’s the main thing.”
With his new manager trusting him to help instill a new brand of football, McNair is thriving. His versatility marks him as the perfect option for a high press style.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, this is a player who has the blend and balance between defence and attack having started out as a centre-half and moved further up the pitch as his career has progressed.
It’s taken time, but Boro are finally getting to see the box-to-box midfield man we were promised 15 months ago.
Maybe that £5million wasn’t a wasted fee after all!