With 17 games of the Championship season already played, Tony Pulis’ side sit 2nd in the league a point ahead of Leeds United and two behind leaders Norwich City.
Despite a healthy league position and being through to the last eight in the EFL Cup, it feels like Boro still haven’t found their rhythm and are searching for their best 11.
Boro currently operate a 4-3-3 system with a front three of Braithwaite, Hugill and Downing. The only real debate in attacking third is whether to start Hugill or Assombalonga; the main selection headache comes from the strength in depth Boro have in both defence and midfield.
The likes of Daniel Ayala, George Saville and Britt Assombalonga are having to settle for a place on the bench at Boro, whereas at other clubs in the Championship, they’d be the first names on the team sheet. The Teessiders may be lacking at the top end of the pitch, but you can’t criticise their defensive prowess.
Danny Batth, Daniel Ayala and Aden Flint are all proven Championship defenders who would be an asset to any side in the division. Add in the ever-promising Dael Fry to that competition and you have your answer as to why Boro have only conceded eight league goals this season.
Midfield wise Boro are, arguably, even stronger. It’s hard to look past Adam Clayton as the best defensive midfielder in the league and with Jonny Howson and Mo Besic pushing the side forward, all three of their starting midfielders have played Premier League football in the past three seasons. With Saville, McNair, Tavernier, Leadbitter and fan–favourite Lewis Wing all having to settle for a place on the bench, Boro are well equipped in the middle of the park to push for promotion.
It’s in that final third that they need to add quality with only Braithwaite, Downing and Chapman as recognised wingers
Pulis hasn’t eluded to the fact that Boro need pace out wide, which is somewhat of a surprise considering that Steve Gibson stated that he wanted to add ‘pace and flair’ to the club when they were relegated. Albert Adomah, Yannick Bolasie and Rafa Silva were targeted but some for reason or another the deals were unable to be completed. This upcoming window has to be better if Boro are to maintain their automatic promotion place.
The Boro manager has Premier League contacts and they have to be utilised. We saw with the Yannick Bolasie saga that the Boro hierarchy can persuade Premier League players to drop down to Championship level, but now they have to persuade them to sign for this club instead of Aston Villa.
But, there’s still a long way to go until January and Boro still have to play eight fixtures until the window opens. If they can still be within touching distance of the summit when January rolls around then you would hope that Gibson would, once again, dig deep into his pockets to get the club over the line.
Adam Reach, Oliver Burke and Albert Adomah would top my Christmas List for who I’d want Boro to sign, but Pulis might have one or two curveballs that he’s been keeping up his sleeve.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC