Jonathan Woodgate believes togetherness has lifted his Middlesbrough side away from the relegation zone after an impressive display to defeat Preston 2-0 at Deepdale moved them 10 points clear of trouble.
Rudy Gestede’s first goal in almost two years – a stunning acrobatic overhead volley after the hosts failed to clear a free-kick – and an own goal from Ben Davies secured a fourth straight Championship win for Middlesbrough.
And Woodgate hailed his side’s fighting spirit which, according to him, has been there all along.
“I thought the performance they put in was outstanding,” said Woodgate.
“When (Daniel) Ayala went off, I had to play with two number eights at centre-back. Jonny Howson? I can’t describe how much I love Jonny Howson. And I thought Paddy McNair was excellent when he came in alongside Dael Fry, who was immense again.
“It comes down to team spirit. Even when we were losing games, we had that team spirit, whether people believe me or not.”
The win moved Middlesbrough up to sixteenth as Woodgate’s side built on the recent wins over Stoke, Huddersfield and West Brom.
And the manager was full of praise for goalscorer Gestede, insisting he was always confident that bringing him in was the right decision.
“I told Rudy Gestede he was playing two days before the West Brom game. I said that’s your game so go and get yourself set, you are going to play that game. I thought he was unplayable at times,” he added.
“It was the right decision to bring Rudy in. You have to look after players and, when other players do come in, they show a real will to work for the shirt and the team.”
The result marked the end of a miserable festive period for Preston, who drew away at Cardiff and Leeds before losing to Reading and now Middlesbrough.
Despite only winning two of their past 10 matches, North End sit just a point outside the play-offs, which Alex Neil believes his side can still challenge for if they rediscover their attacking threat.
“The last two games have been very similar in that the first goal has been crucial,” said the Preston boss. “Our home form has been built on being aggressive and getting the first goal and, in the last two games when that hasn’t happened, we’ve struggled.
“We’re not carrying the threat in terms of getting the number of goals we would like. We had possession, but to be honest, possession doesn’t really matter.
“I’m trying to commit more bodies forward and be more offensive, but when they’ve got that first goal, they’re happy to sit back and not commit too many men forward. We’re naturally disappointed.”