Bolton Wanderers 0 Middlesbrough 0: Woodgate coup brings class to Boro's back line

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The Independent Football

It is too early even to begin to judge whether Gareth Southgate will make a successful manager but if the eye for an inspirational signing is one measure of his potential then the former England defender clearly has something to offer his new profession.

Southgate's capture of Jonathan Woodgate on a season-long loan from Real Madrid falls into that category. The 26-year-old centre-back's eagerness to re-establish his career after enduring some wretchedly ill fortune in Spain was known to every Premiership club during the summer transfer window but it was the fledgling Middlesbrough boss who clinched the deal and can credit himself with his first coup.

Newcastle, who had sold Woodgate to Real for £13.4m in August 2004, supposedly had first refusal, while there was also interest, coincidentally, from Bolton. But Southgate persuaded the Middlesbrough-born player that if he was to fulfil his dream of appearing for his home-town club then it might as well be now.

Now Southgate has seen Woodgate bring authority and control to a defence that had leaked eight goals in three matches before his arrival. In the last two games, in which Woodgate has commanded the back four, they have conceded only Thierry Henry's penalty at the Emirates Stadium.

"As well as performing well himself, his presence has had a calming effect on the other defensive players," Southgate said after Bolton's high-profile capture, the £8m striker Nicolas Anelka, was subdued. "He has brought composure to the defence and they are all showing the benefit."

Southgate dangled another psychological carrot on Saturday by making Woodgate captain, taking advantage of an opportunity created by George Boateng's suspension and an injury to Mark Viduka. Woodgate says it was a dream come true and Southgate will remind him of the feeling when he works on a permanent move.

"When I spoke to him in Madrid I sensed he had a desire to make things work for him in Spain," Southgate said. "But we signed him with a view to keeping him here when the loan finishes. A fee has been agreed with Madrid and now it is up to us to prove we have something to offer him."

A route back into the England side is likely to be a key factor. Woodgate won the last of his five caps almost two and a half years ago and the injuries he suffered in Spain, restricting him to 14 games in two years for Madrid, tended to push him off the radar, but Southgate's close relationship with the England coach, Steve McClaren, places another ace in his negotiating hand.

And Southgate talks up Woodgate's claims with enthusiasm. "With the experience he has gained in Madrid, playing in European games and working with top players, he is as good as any of the England centre-halves," he said.

However, he will need to prove himself in more demanding contests than this tepid affair. Ivan Campo and Gary Speed drew on their experience to engineer some promising moves but the best were created by Middlesbrough. Fabio Rochemback and James Morrison went close in the first half, although not as close as Aiyegbeni Yakubu in the second, when the Nigerian drew the best save of the match from Jussi Jaaskelainen and then wasted an even better chance with only the keeper to beat.

Southgate acknowledged the chance missed but was sufficiently encouraged, thinking of defeats and seven goals in total conceded against Reading and Portsmouth, by a Woodgate-inspired clean sheet, not to fret. "We had a young team out and we needed to show character against a side with a lot of senior players so I'm pleased," he said.

Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Jaaskelainen; Ben Haim, Faye, Meite, Fortune; Nolan (Tal, 75), Campo, Speed; Diouf, Anelka, Giannakopoulos (Vaz Te, 59). Substitutes not used: Walker (gk), Hunt, Teimourian.

Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Davies, Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Morrison (Parnaby, 90), Euell, Cattermole, Rochemback, Johnson (Mendieta, 73); Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Maccarone, Bates.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Booked: Bolton Johnson.

Man of the match: Woodgate.

Attendance: 21,164.