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Skipper hoping Middlesbrough will slip under the radar
WITH outside expectations lower than in previous seasons, Middlesbrough captain Rhys Williams is hoping the club will slip under the radar in the early weeks of the new campaign.
Whereas the Teessiders have generally been among the pre-season Championship favourites since dropping out of the Premier League four years ago, the bookmakers make Boro 33-1 outsiders for this year’s second-tier title after a summer that has seen them add just Dean Whitehead and Jozsef Varga while losing 11 senior members of last season’s squad.
Chairman Steve Gibson and manager Tony Mowbray continue to track possible additions, with free agent Frazer Richardson the latest player to be interesting the duo after he spent time at Boro’s Rockliffe Hall training ground.
Ross Turnbull is set to rejoin shortly, while West Ham striker Ricardo Vaz Te has also been linked with a possible loan move, but it is unlikely that any new outfield players will arrive before Saturday’s opener with Leicester City.
That has created concern among a significant proportion of the Middlesbrough support, but Williams feels his team-mates could benefit from the absence of sky-high expectations.
“Maybe it’ll be to our advantage that people aren’t really talking about our chances too much,” said the skipper, who is expected to partner Jonathan Woodgate at centre-half in Saturday’s starting line-up. “We know we’re a big club, but maybe people have seen the dip after Christmas in the last couple of years and written us off a bit. That could work in our favour, time will tell.
“We’ve all really enjoyed pre-season and feel really fit. Hopefully, judging by our pre-season friendlies, we’re looking sharp and not conceding many goals. The boys have looked good right through pre-season and there’s a real determination to get it right.”
While last season started well enough, results tailed off dramatically after the turn of the year and Boro eventually ended up finishing in the bottom half of the table in 16th position.
They have only claimed three league victories in 2013, and Williams admits he has spent a chunk of the summer reflecting on what went so dramatically wrong towards the end of the last campaign.
“I think all of the boys will have thought about what happened last season, where it went wrong and what we can do better,” he said. “It’s run through the whole club, even the fans. We’re all in this together and we’re ready to come back and start again.
“What happened last season was difficult to take, but it’s been good to have the summer break and have a bit of time away from things. Some players have gone and a couple have come in. It’s a tighter squad, and hopefully we can kick on that one step further this year.”
* Boro have announced the opening of a new Twe12th Man fans’ bar in the North Stand at the Riverside, and a deal with Sportingbet that will see the bookmaker become the club’s stadium betting partner.
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