Middlesbrough FC - Season Preview
So far, signings have been few and far between for Boro this summer for several reasons, mostly financial.
It seems as though Boro had to shift some of their biggest earners before they could spend and with Stewart Downing, Aden Flint and Martin Braithwaite departing, the new arrivals came.
Tomas Mejias rejoined to provide back-up to Darren Randolph and Marcus Browne and Marc Bola have since arrived. Both impressed in League One last season and come in with a hunger and desire to prove themselves at this level. Browne scored 9 goals and claimed 5 assists from the wing last season for Oxford and fans are hoping he will provide some long-needed excitement out wide.
Bola is a left-back who, like Browne, impressed in League One last season with 35 league games for Blackpool with 2 goals and 2 assists. Some quarters have called for George Friend’s influence to be cut for some time and Bola’s arrival could lead to that.
Boro are still lacking in certain positions and squad depth and Jonathan Woodgate will be hoping to add more to his team before the close of the transfer window.
Boro needed to cut costs this summer. Everyone knew that going in and that’s what they have done without too much fanfare about those who have left. Downing, Flint and Braithwaite are the notable names while Dimi Konstantopoulos, Andy Lonergan and John Obi Mikel are the other first-team names to have departed since the final game of last season.
Downing, Flint, Braithwaite and Mikel were among the higher earners at the club so getting them off the books will have helped the finances massively. Additionally, the fees are Flint and Braithwaite, although the club made a loss, will go some way to allow Woodgate to add to his squad.
So far, Boro have been able to make a profit and cut the wage bill without getting rid of those attracting attention in Darren Randolph, Britt Assombalonga and Marcus Tavernier.
Players to watch
It will be interesting to see who excels in Jonathan Woodgate’s new style and system. The midfielders will be given more license to roam forward, as will the full-backs and this should lead to more chances and more attractive football.
Tavernier will surely be given more game time and without the license to track back as much as he was asked to under Pulis, we could see the best of him this season. Assombalonga will also surely be relishing the change in approach and a hat-trick in his first pre-season game will have done wonders for his confidence.
Because of the lack of signings and depleted squad, it’s given opportunities to other players too with Hayden Coulson and Marvin Johnson impressing. Keep an eye out for Djed Spence too, who could benefit from the lack of a natural right-back in the squad.
It’s fair to say that Boro fans have a collective hope for the upcoming season, more entertaining football. After 18 months of watching ‘Pulisball’, the promise of high-pressing, attacking football is exciting for supporters as they hope the days of watching 10 players hit the ball to a lone frontman are long gone.
The team look to have taken naturally to Woodgate’s philosophy and there have been a lot of positives from pre-season, despite setbacks with injuries and a lack of additions. The new coaching team seem to be doing the business early on and even if Boro don’t reach the playoffs this season, the new approach will certainly be easier on the eye.
Supporters will also be hopeful of seeing some youngsters coming through, something which has been missing for some time now. Wing, Tavernier and Fry have emerged in the last couple of seasons but there’s hope for some of the others that have had opportunities in pre-season.
This is probably the first time in a while that there is little expectation among supporters. For the first time since the Tony Mowbray days, there isn’t a consensus that Boro should be challenging for the top two or the play-offs, and most seem content with a season of transition.
In truth, entertaining football will likely give Woodgate some leeway from results given the reaction to the negative approach of Pulis and, as a result, there will be less expectation on him to deliver a promotion-winning campaign. The fact that it's his first job in management is also likely to grant him some patience from supporters.
With expectation comes pressure and there seems to be little to none of that on Boro and Jonathan Woodgate this season, which could steer them well in this transitional period of cost-cutting and player development.