Woodgate backs young star Spence to keep shining in Boro first team

Middlesbrough boss Jonathan Woodgate is delighted to see Djed Spence revelling in his status as the latest teenager to roll off the Rockliffe Park production line.

Spence joined Middlesbrough in the summer of 2018 after he was released by Fulham, and in the last 18 months he has honed his skills with the under-23s.

He stepped up to make his senior debut at the start of this month and has not looked back since, contributing to three wins and a draw in his four first-team appearances and claiming his first senior goal in Boro’s 1-0 win over Huddersfield.

Spence was one of five academy products in Woodgate’s starting line-up against the Terriers, with Middlesbrough’s youngsters keeping some more experienced players out of the team.

Woodgate said: “When you get opportunities you’ve got to take them, and Djed has done that. His future was maybe a little bit uncertain at the start of the season, but he certainly won’t be going on loan in January now, that’s for sure.

“You’ve got to be brave to do it. I could have put a left-sider on that side (instead of Spence at right wing-back), but you’ve got to be brave to make these decisions. I’ll always go with core values, and one of those is, ‘be brave in what you want to do’. I think that’s paying dividends.

“Hayden Coulson, he’s done well so he stays in the team even though I brought in Marc Bola (in the same position). Djed? I brought (Anfernee) Dijksteel in. (Thomas) Mejias? (Aynsley) Pears plays.

“(Marcus) Tavernier is getting a really good run in the team now, and he looks as though he’ll be a really good player. Dael Fry is in the team, Lewis Wing is in the team, and if they do well, they’ll stay in.”

Middlesbrough have hauled themselves six points clear of the relegation zone, but Huddersfield’s defeat has dropped them back to within two places of the bottom three.

Danny Cowley’s side created two excellent opportunities to equalise in the second half, but Jon Gorenc-Stankovic headed over from a corner and Steve Mounie failed to hit the target despite having the goal at his mercy as he met Elias Kachunga’s cross inside the six-yard box.

Cowley said: “It was a tight game. I felt they started well, but we came into it and were able to get good control of the possession. We had to tweak how we wanted to play because Middlesbrough can be physically dominant with the three centre-halves.

“I was disappointed to concede the goal when we did, and losing Jonathan Hogg (through injury) was a big blow after 20 minutes because he’s a talisman and a leader.

“It wasn’t ideal to lose Jonathan but in the second half I felt we had a good percentage of the possession and created two really good opportunities that, as the away team, if you want to get something, you have to take chances like that.

“It’s the life of a number nine I guess. Steve Mounie was the hero on Saturday getting the winner against Nottingham Forest, but today he was maybe slightly off balance and just wasn’t able to take the chance.”

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Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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