Gareth Southgate may be a relatively unknown quantity as
a manager, but one person in the West Ham United ranks knows him
better than most.
Andy Woodman, the Hammers' youth goalkeeping coach, and Southgate are close friends, having come through the youth system at Crystal Palace together. The pair even released a book together in 2004 called "Woody and Nord: A Football Friendship" describing their differing paths through the game.
"I've known Gareth for 20 years or more," Woody said. "We grew up at Palace together as kids and went through our careers speaking to each other most days."
Woody believes the Middlesbrough boss is proving himself to be a capable manager in his first season in charge. "There was a bit of a hoo-haa about his qualifications," he said. "But how could he have got those qualifications when he was playing for the national side for ten years?
"I always knew he'd make a top manager, I still think one day he'll go on to be England manager. He'll do really well and go from strength to strength.
"I think it'll be a tough game for us on Saturday. Middlesbrough have a couple of players up front who can put the ball in the back of the net, but after our last result we've had the first bit of luck we've had all season up at Blackburn.
"I think it's critical for his team to get the points
and push them closer to safety and it's critical for our team
to get the points. It's going to be another tense game for the
lads and for both managers.
"Hopefully we can go and get another three points and start putting the pressure on the teams around us. I can safely say my heart will be with the West Ham result!"
Having played in goal for several clubs, including Exeter City, Northampton Town, Brentford, Southend United and Rushden & Diamonds, Woody has settled into his role as a coach for the Hammers since joining last summer.
"It's been very rewarding for me," he admitted. "It's been different, having played in goal throughout my career and experienced the highs and lows on a Saturday. I'm actually living the highs and lows with the young keepers here now in their careers, which is a different feeling.
"You feel responsible that these kids go on and have a good career. My most rewarding day this year was when David Blackmore signed his professional contract. That's a different side of the job I'm enjoying."
And what one piece of advice would Woody bestow on his young charges? "Become a striker," he joked. "There's more money up front!"