Despite the League Cup being Boro’s only major trophy in their 142-year history, the competition often comes as a time for managers to utilise their squad depth and give fringe players a chance to impress.
Of Boro’s recent additions, Danny Batth is yet to feature, Sam McQueen has made two substitute appearances and Paddy McNair is also yet to start a game. Therefore, tomorrow’s fixture comes as a chance for Pulis to utilise his squad with mass changes to the starting line-up expected. Let’s take a look at some of those players who will be wanting to impress tomorrow night:
With Leeds and Boro unbeaten at the end of August, Wing found himself, unfortunately, dropped, as Pulis opted for experience over youth in a top of the table clash at Elland Road.
Before then, the former Shildon player had contributed with two assists in his previous three matches as Boro quickly ascended to the top of the table. But, Boro have only found the back of the net twice since Wing’s last match. With Boro lacking that creative spark in midfield, tomorrow’s match at Preston gives Wing a chance to prove that he deserves a place back in that matchday squad.
The former Sunderland man has struggled for game time since switching Wearside for Teesside with central midfield looking to be one of Boro’s strongest positions. Battling with Jonny Howson, Adam Clayton, Mo Besic and George Saville for a starting position means that McNair’s minutes on the pitch have been restricted so far.
A strong performance could soon change that, however, as Pulis’ looks to add that bit of quality in the final third which has been missing from Boro’s performances in the last few matches.
The 20-year old Hartlepool-born winger has had his young career plagued with injuries so far. His Sheffield United loan was dampened after damaging his ankle ligaments, his loan at Blackburn was cut short after picking up a hamstring injury and his Boro debut just six weeks ago was marked with a dislocated shoulder.
A fan’s favourite at Blackburn for his quick feet and direct style of play, Pulis will be looking to see more from the Boro youngster on Tuesday night. It was well documented that Boro were looking to sign a tricky winger with pace during the transfer window, it may be that the player they were wanting is already at the club.
Wolves’ captain during their outstanding promotion season last year has a lot to offer Boro throughout this campaign. A natural leader who also promises to be a key individual in the dressing room, Batth will be wanting to prove that he can challenge Ayala and Flint for a starting spot.
With Boro having the best defence in the EFL, it’ll be a tough challenge trying to break into the Boro 11 each week, but the no-nonsense defender will certainly be up for the task.
After breaking into the Boro first team under Garry Monk last season, Tavernier proved himself to be a reliable squad player during his brief five-game spell. The young winger was then sent out on loan to MK Dons in January but was unable to help the club avoid relegation after making only seven appearances due to injury.
His goal away at Bournemouth in the League Cup last year gave him an opportunity in the first team to impress, he’ll be hoping that a similar performance tomorrow night could see himself back in the first team picture once again.
The Southampton academy is well-renowned for producing some fantastic talent with the likes of Gareth Bale, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott all passing through in previous years. The next one out of the graduate scheme is Sam McQueen.
A versatile player who can operate at left-back and on the wing, McQueen will be using the Preston match to highlight to the Boro boss he’s more than just a useful squad player.
Signed last summer for £7m, it wouldn’t be harsh to say that Fletcher’s first year on Teesside wasn’t a glittering success. Netting only once during his 16 appearances for the club, the former West Ham man was then shipped out to Sunderland for the remainder of the season where he was unable to help them avoid back-to-back relegations.
This time out, Fletcher was initially involved in the matchday squads until Jordan Hugill arrived on a season-long loan from West Ham United. Though he has found form in the League Cup this season, notching twice in a 3-3 draw against Notts County and also impressing against Rochdale. A similar performance tomorrow night could persuade Pulis to re-think his plans for Boro’s number 18.
Involved in every matchday squad so far this season, Fry was benched in midweek for the first time this season as Boro searched for more goals going forward. It was a decision that paid off as Tony Pulis’ men picked up their first three points after the international break whilst managing to keep another clean sheet.
It now looks like Boro will line-up using a back four instead of a back five, which may result in Fry’s game time being restricted once again. A composed defender who is comfortable on the ball, Fry will almost definitely find himself in the first team picture at some point again this season, all he needs to do is keep on playing like he was before.
We all know what Pulis looks for in a striker; a strong target man who can hold the ball up at the top end of the pitch and that’s exactly what Boro have in the shape of Jordan Hugill. He scored eight goals in half a season for Preston before his big money move to West Ham last January and he’ll be looking to net another goal at Deepdale tomorrow evening.
A tireless workhorse who puts himself about, Hugill will be looking to show his clinical nature in front of goal as he battles with Britt Assombalonga to be Boro’s starting striker.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC