Tuesday topic: Boro in desperate need of help before big kick-off (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Tuesday topic: Boro in desperate need of help before big kick-off
Tony Mowbray has made no secret of a desire to bring in new players and work will continue up until Saturday’s Championship curtain-raiser with Leicester City. Chief football writer Paul Fraser examines how Middlesbrough are shaping up for the new campaign
PRE-SEASON is almost over, the final friendly has been played. The curtain will soon rise on Middlesbrough’s fifth season in the Championship and, despite reasons to be positive, there is understandable concern from supporters before the first ball has been kicked.
Make no mistake about it, chairman Steve Gibson and chief executive Neil Bausor have been working behind the scenes in a bid to try to get Mowbray’s squad geared up for the new season. With constant phone calls and discussions, it could still be that more new faces arrive before the visit of Leicester City.
As things stand the only close season recruits Mowbray has to work with in the build up to Saturday’s opener are Dean Whitehead and Jozsef Varga. The pre-season signs have been positive from both midfielders, but it is undeniable that they need help.
A quick look down the list of departures since January, when Kevin Thomson reached an agreement to have the remaining term of his contract ended, suggests Middlesbrough are looking short this season. Eleven players, all boasting strong claims to be in the first team, have left.
More than £100,000-a-week looks to have been cut from the wage bill by allowing the likes of Thomson, Andre Bikey, Stephen McManus, Nicky Bailey, Julio Arca and, most recently, biggest earner Scott McDonald to move on. The key now is to make sure they are replaced with better players.
That is something Middlesbrough have been trying to do, although have so far struggled to conclude deals for the gems they feel they have found overseas. There will also be further discussions with English clubs, particularly in the Premier League, to see who they can bring in on loan.
Such deals are more likely to occur later in the transfer window when the top-flight clubs have started their season and are more in tune with those they are planning to have in their Premier League squads for the rest of the campaign.
Middlesbrough – who signed Josh McEachran from Chelsea 12 months ago in similar circumstances - are prepared to wait if it enables them to bring in higher league quality, but there is also a greater need to add to the squad now to have the options in place if players break down ahead of the visit of the Foxes.
Saturday’s encouraging performance against Bordeaux at the Riverside reminded supporters that Mowbray does have decent Championship players at his disposal – but if anything happens to his preferred 12 or 13 players then there will be an over-reliance on youth.
Players such as Bryn Morris, Ryan Brobbel, Jordan Jones and Ben Gibson all have big futures ahead of them but Mowbray is keen to avoid having to use them more often than not in a 46-game Championship season which many of his senior players failed to cope with last season.
That is why Whitehead, whose two previous experiences of the division ended in title winning parties with Sunderland, has been brought in from Stoke. There needs to be more of that winning mentality if Middlesbrough are to stand a chance of competing for a top six spot.
The team which started the 2-1 win over Bordeaux would have every chance of achieving that aim. But it will be impossible for the same players to start every single match next season, which is why the calls are still being made now to try to improve things.
After last season’s alarming decline after New Year, Middlesbrough can’t afford a bleak start or the frustrations among the fans at the Riverside will soon increase. Having offloaded McDonald, a high earner but arguably the best forward at the club, the need for Marvin Emnes and Lukas Jutkiewicz to deliver together has never been so strong.
The two have looked sharp and hungry during pre-season, Emnes particularly so. The Dutchman struggled for a variety of reasons last season, but he has looked like a man intent on recapturing the sort of form which earned him 18 goals a year earlier.
Jutkiewicz also struggled at times because of a succession of injury problems, but he is more than capable of tormenting Championship defences if he can stay available for selection. The worry is that the largely untested Curtis Main is Middlesbrough’s only other recognised striker if either of Mowbray’s main front-men were sidelined.
There are strikers – like Southampton’s Billy Sharp who has been under consideration – on the radar, while the need to find defensive cover for Jonathan Woodgate, whose body will still not be up to playing three games in a week, and Rhys Williams is vital despite the emergence of young centre-back Gibson.
Time is running out for new blood to be brought in, but there is absolutely no disguising the fact Middlesbrough can’t afford to get too deep in to the new season with the squad they have got. Contracts need to be signed - and fast.
THE CHANGING FACE OF MIDDLESBROUGH’S SQUAD
Departures from last season's first team squad
Andre Bikey, Merouane Zemmama, Stephen McManus, Sammy Ameobi, Nicky Bailey, Kieron Dyer, Josh McEachran, Julio Arca, Scott McDonald, Ishmael Miller, Kevin Thomson
New arrivals this summer
Boro's squad for 2013-14
Goalkeepers: Jason Steele, Jayson Leutwiler, Connor Ripley
Defenders: Justin Hoyte, George Friend, Rhys Williams, Stuart Parnaby, Jonathan Woodgate, Christian Burgess, Andy Halliday, Andre Bennett, Seb Hines, Ben Gibson.
Midfielders: Grant Leadbitter, Dean Whitehead, Jozsef Varga, Richie Smallwood, Faris Haroun, Adam Reach, Cameron Park, Bryn Morris, Jordan Jones, Matty Dolan, Ryan Brobbel
Forwards: Lukas Jutkiewicz, Marvin Emnes, Curtis Main, Emmanuel Ledesma, Mustapha Carayol, Luke Williams.
Boro’s best team at start of new season (4-2-3-1)
Steele; Hoyte, Woodgate, R Williams, Friend; Varga, Whitehead; Carayol, Leadbitter, Emnes; Jutkiewicz.
Boro’s best team at the end of last season (4-2-3-1)
Steele; Hoyte, Woodgate, R Williams, Friend; Leadbitter, McEachran; Carayol, Dyer, McDonald; Jutkiewicz.
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