• Ben Strickland

Addressing Middlesbrough’s Problem Positions in January

It has been an ongoing trend over the years, a new manager comes in at Middlesbrough and are presented with a squad that doesn’t quite suit their style. Whether it be Pulis inheriting a squad full of technically sound players, Woodgate being left with a team of centrebacks-turned-full backs, Warnock with a team lacking wingers and forwards who didn’t like playing with their back to goal. Wilder has inherited a squad of players that are yet to solidify a role in the team. Versatility is something Warnock admired and had it in abundance with Howson, Dijksteel, Jones, Tavernier, Bola, Watmore, Crooks and Peltier all playing different roles in different systems. This can be seen as a benefit but also foreshadows the inconsistency in results from the inconsistency in player positioning.

Wilder knows what he wants and has reiterated the fact he doesn’t want round pegs in square holes, some players may be let go in January and a few eyebrows may be raised as a result of who we let go; but it will be for the benefit of the team, and we can recruit players that suit the Middlesbrough way and the long-term vision. As a result, here is a list of targets that could suit this long-term vision and address some ‘problem positions’ we currently have:

Goalkeeper

While Luke Daniels has shown glimpses of quality in shot-stopping and Joe Lumley has impressed of late in his calm and composed distribution. Each player lacks the qualities the other possess. Boro need a keeper who commands his area and can distribute well, someone who isn’t glued to their line and anticipates any danger when the opposition gets a ball in behind.

Toby Savin


Age – 21

Club – Accrington Stanley

Clean Sheets this season – 6

Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:


  • Comes off his line often

  • Likes to punch the ball

Linked with Man Utd and Newcastle earlier in the year, Savin has impressed while at Accrington having already made over 50 first team appearances. Possibly a move to become a championship number 1 instantly may be too soon for him, but certainly, one to keep an eye on for the future. Oliver Dovin


Age – 19

Club – Hammarby

Transfermarkt Value – 450k

Clean Sheets this season – 3

The London born Sweden u21 international has solidified a starting position at Swedish top-flight club Hammarby, who currently sit in 5th. He has turned a few heads and attracted interest from England scouts who may be trying to get Dovin to switch allegiances and follow in the footsteps of Etienne Green in representing England on the international stage.

Mike Cooper


Age – 22

Club – Plymouth Argyle

Clean Sheets this season – 8 Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Concentration

  • Saving Long Shots

The young Argyle keeper is already ready for first team championship football in my opinion, having been brought into the fold by now Preston manager Ryan Lowe; Cooper has not looked back. He will go right to the top and if Boro have any wits about them, they will have Cooper high on their list of targets this January. He is up there alongside Matt O’Riley for young EFL stars who I would love Boro to sign.

Defence

Left-Sided Centreback

Though not essential in most teams, to have a left-footer on the left side of a back 3 would most likely be preferable for Chris Wilder. This would allow a more effective overload down the left side of the pitch and can threaten the opposition with a cross in from the byline with the overlapping centre-halves that we had become accustomed to with his Sheffield United team. I’ve noticed now when we get the ball down the left-hand side, we often play the ball backwards or McNair is having to cut inside to get his cross in rather than whip a left-footed ball in. This position is probably the first thing off Wilder’s lips during recruitment discussions.

Liam Kitching


Age – 22

Club – Barnsley Transfermarkt Value – 270k Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Passing

  • Tackling


The Leeds academy graduate joined Barnsley almost a year ago in January of last year from Forest Green Rovers. Standing at 6ft 3in, the left footer fulfils the remit of someone like Jack O’Connell. A physical presence who is comfortable on the ball, he has also played at left back so would fit into the overlapping centreback role with little issue. With Barnsley looking over their shoulder rather than up the table, they could be tempted to sell if they can recoup the reported 600k the paid for him.

Anselmo Garcia McNulty

Age – 18

Club – VfL Wolfsburg

Transfermarkt Value – 270k

The Irish u21 international has Spanish citizenship and came through the Real Betis youth system before joining up with the Wolfsburg youth teams. Having most recently been called up to the first team squad during the German outfit’s preseason training. Most likely one for the future as opposed to someone to come in and make an instant impact for the first team but the transfer would provide fruitfully should we assist his development correctly.

Scott Wharton


Age – 24

Club – Blackburn Rovers

Transfermarkt Value – 225k Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Indirect set-piece threat

Wharton has hit impressive form since returning from injury, having helped keep a clean sheet in his last 4 outings for Blackburn. This could prove difficult for Boro to sign him and would be one of the more ‘unrealistic’ targets on this list. However, should Boro sell one of our star players; the money brought in could finance a deal for Wharton.

Centreback Cover

Not so much a ‘problem position’ as we currently have cover who are more than capable. However, with Bamba and Peltier out of contract at the end of the season and Grant Hall seemingly not a fit for Wilder; we only have Nathan Wood as cover for those positions going into next season. I also believe Wilder will be looking to replace Dijksteel on the right of the back three with someone who is more of an aerial threat, someone who is a more traditional centreback with the ability to carry the ball forward. Someone moulded from the Chris Basham blueprint. The likelihood is that Paddy McNair will step in here after we sign a left footed centreback for the other side; but here is another option.

Jacob Greaves

Age – 21

Club – Hull City

Transfermarkt Value – 900k Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Likes to play short passes

Coming into the last year of his contract next year could force Hull to sell one of their best academy products. He has been a mainstay in their first team during their title-winning league 1 campaign last season and winning young player of the season. After a rocky start to this season is helping Hull climb up the table to ensure safety.

Central Midfield

Although not a priority, I feel we are a weaker team without Crooks, Tavernier and Howson. Payero currently struggles with the busy Championship schedule and will be too soon to expect him to play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday, Wednesday; should we have an injury to the main trio. Siliki may be recalled by his parent club in January, or we may cancel the loan after only making brief cameos since signing. The following three players would provide competition for places:

Ben Wiles


Age – 22

Club – Rotherham Transfermarkt Value – 810k Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Long Shots

  • Likes to dribble

  • Does not dive into tackles

Having already raided Rotherham for Matt Crooks, Boro could do a lot worse than his former teammate Ben Wiles. With 7 goals and 2 assists from midfield this season, full of running he could slot in well with Wilder’s press. Matt O’Riley

Age – 21

Club – MK Dons

Transfermarkt Value – 405k

Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:


  • Passing

  • Finishing

  • Dribbling

  • Key Passes

  • Concentration


The day I stop including him in these threads is the day we sign him. He is very good at football.

Taylor Richards


Age – 21

Club – Brighton and Hove Albion

Transfermarkt Value – 360k Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Long Shots

  • Key Passes

  • Dribbling

A ready-made replacement should we decide to sell Tavernier in January, an essential buy even if Tav stays. With just 3 first team appearances for Brighton this season, Richards is far too good to be playing youth level football after a successful loan at Doncaster last season where he scored 11 goals.

Strikers

Boro aren’t blessed with depth when it comes to their forwards, after impressing earlier in the season under different management; the likes of Ikpeazu and Coburn don’t appear to suit the football Wilder wants us to play. A permanent and a loan move away from the club respectively seems to be on the cards. Outside of Sporar and Watmore, we haven’t any forwards at the club who can come on without seemingly making the side weaker. Hernandez can press but other than that he tends to do an awful lot without doing anything at all and first team opportunities may come too soon for Ste Walker and Calum Kavanagh. Folarin Balogun won’t feature on this list, though I hope we can pull off that transfer.

Harry Cornick


Age – 26

Club – Luton Town

Transfermarkt Value – 810k

Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Key Passes

  • Finishing

  • Counter-Attack Threat

  • Likes To Dribble

Just a **** Jack Grealish. Cornick has proved more than capable in a front two at Luton, notching 7 goals and 3 assists so far this season. Though not someone I believe Boro fans will want to lead the line going into next season, currently in the last year of his deal at Luton; he will prove to be a safe signing. Someone who we can turn to 60/70 minutes into a match and think “He can make things happen”.

Cade Cowell

Age – 18

Club – San Jose Earthquakes

Transfermarkt Value - £4.5m

Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Key Passes

  • Likes to Dribble

  • Counter-Attack Threat

After the success of Daryl Dike at Barnsley last season (who is another Boro could look at signing on loan), the MLS looks to be producing some young talent. When played as a striker, Cowell has 3 goals and 3 assists in 8 games. Out of contract come January 1st, depending on MLS rules with out of contract players or compensation, he could be a shrewd signing.

Aaron Connolly


Age – 21 Club – Brighton and Hove Albion Transfermarkt Value - £6.30m Strengths/Characteristics according to WhoScored:

  • Gets fouled often

  • Indirect set-piece threat

  • Likes to play short passes

Struggling for game time this season, playing just 3 times in the premier league; 1 appearance less than Danny Welbeck. He will be eager to get game time under his belt and while he may be more of an option off the bench for us initially; he should be getting more game time on loan at Boro than he would get if he were to stay at Brighton for the remainder of the season. A loan move for a striker in January should suit Boro and will allow us to assess the market in full in the summer for a 10/15 goal a season striker.

805 views0 comments