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Are Middlesbrough capable of making an immediate return to the Premier League next season?

Martyn Cooke



Whilst there is an overriding sense of disappointment around Teeside regarding Middlesbrough’s relegation from the Premier League the club remains in a strong position to challenge for an immediate return to the top flight. With the core nucleus of the squad expected to remain, a new manager expected to arrive in the summer, and a £47,000,000 parachute payment helping to fund new signings, the future is not looking so bleak for The Boro.

Where did it all go wrong?

This season represents a missed opportunity for Middlesbrough who, after seven years of working towards a return to the top flight, were left ruing a cautious approach and lack of goals that ultimately resulted in relegation. There is little doubt that Aitor Karanka did a fantastic job by guiding the Teeside club from the lower echelons of The Championship to promotion to the Premier League and yet he quickly became unstuck over the course of the season.

The Spaniard applied a cautious, defensive-minded and, some might say, negative attitude towards matches that resulted in a team with a solid defensive record but an inability to create goal scoring opportunities. His approach stifled creativity and you sense that supporters would have been much more willing to accept relegation if their side had ‘given it a go’. Karanka was dismissed too late in the season and his replacement, Steve Agnew, simply did not possess the skills, knowledge or experience to halt Middlesbrough’s slide towards the relegation trap door.

Is their squad capable of securing promotion next season?

Yes – although there will need to be some tweaking in terms of playing personnel.

The big positive for Middlesbrough is that the core nucleus of the squad that achieved promotion last year should remain intact. Brad Guzan, Victor Valdes and Ben Gibson will all likely depart during the summer whilst Calum Chambers and Alvaro Negredo will return to their parents clubs when their loan deals expire. However, this should still leave a group of players that possess the necessary experience and quality to navigate their way towards the contest for promotion in the upper reaches of The Championship next season.

A solution to their goal scoring problems could well already exist within the club with Jordan Rhodes set to return after spending the second half of the season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, whilst Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede were given limited opportunities to shine in the Premier League despite their proven qualities in front of goal. A couple of reconciliations and new additions should see Middlesbrough emerge as one of the favourites for promotion.

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 Who will be in charge?

Steve Agnew has stepped into the breach left by the departure of Aitor Karanka on a temporary basis and despite chairman Steve Gibson initially indicating his respect and admiration for the 51-year-old it would be a huge surprise if a new manager did not arrive in the summer. Agnew has won just one of his ten games in charge and the club undoubtedly need a new face in the dugout to implement a fresh approach. Nigel Pearson, Garry Monk, David Wagner and Alan Pardew have all been suggested at possible candidates.


This season has been somewhat underwhelming for Middlesbrough and the cautious approach adopted by former manager Aitor Karanka has undoubtedly left supporters thinking that greater success would have been achieved had a more positive attitude been applied. After seven years of building towards a return to the top flight The Teeside club have offered very little towards the interest and entertainment of the Premier League over the last nine months. The Spaniard’s approach stifled creativity and a lack of goals ultimately resulted in relegation, despite a relatively solid defensive record.

Whilst Steve Agnew may have overseen the final few months of the campaign, with little joy, the 51-year-old is unlikely to be handed the managerial post on a permanent basis in the summer. The positive for Middlesbrough is that the arrival of a new manager and the addition of a couple new signings to an already experience nucleus of players should leave them in a strong position to challenge for promotion from The Championship next season. A handful of key personnel may depart during the transfer window but Steve Gibson will make significant funds available to invest in the rebuilding of a squad capable of making an immediate return to the Premier League.

Featured Image: All Rights Reserved John Holland (John Holland)

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.


Could Tony Pulis tempt Grzegorz Krychowiak to Middlesbrough in summer?

Pulis brought the Paris Saint-Germain man to West Brom in the summer.



Middlesbrough appear to be on a surge in the Championship, a surge that will have West Brom fans feeling sick. Middlesbrough have been thriving in recent weeks under the guidance of Tony Pulis at the Riverside Stadium. Boro are currently on a run of five games unbeaten, which has taken them into the play-off spots.

West Brom on the other hand, who sacked Pulis earlier in the season, look to be doomed at the foot of the Premier League table.

But with a potential swap between the two sides looking possible, should Middlesbrough look at bringing in a Polish star.

Grzegorz Krychowiak was signed by Pulis at West Brom at the start of the season. The former Sevilla man looked an exciting signing from Paris Saint-Germain on loan, where he had struggled for first-team football.

Not many West Brom players have come out of this season with much credit, but the Pole has shown some form. However, overall he has not played as well as West Brom fans would have expected for a player with his lofty reputation.

In the summer, Krychowiak is unlikely to join West Brom if they are playing Championship football next season. Despite his indifferent season he will consider himself too big a talent to play in the second-tier.

Middlesbrough though could be the answer. The Teessiders are in the hunt for promotion and Pulis is a fan of the player.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – JANUARY 20: Wayne Rooney of Everton tackles Grzegorz Krychowiak of West Bromwich Albion during the Premier League match between Everton and West Bromwich Albion at Goodison Park on January 20, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

In October the Boro boss was still at West Brom. He stated, as reported by the club’s official Twitter account:

“Greg (Krychowiak) is an even better player than what he’s shown already. He’s really mixed in. His English is fantastic.”

The 28-year-old will be looking to find a new team in the summer and Pulis has tempted into a move once already.

If he can guide Boro into the Premier League then making a move for the 48-cap Polish star would be a wise move for Pulis in the summer.

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Can Patrick Bamford fire Middlesbrough to promotion?

Patrick Bamford’s rich vein of form has followed a switch to a more central attacking role.



Photo: Getty Images

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck?”, Dalai Lama XIV

As Patrick Bamford clinically finished his and Middlesbrough’s third goal on a frosty Friday night to confirm a comfortable 3-0 win over Leeds United, I wonder if the Dalai Lama’s words were echoing around Tony Pulis’ head?

Time and again the direct running of Adama Traore drew white shirts to him like moths to a light.

This created space for the clever off the ball runs of Bamford to exploit before he pulled the trigger to execute Leeds once, twice and thrice. The result was the most convincing performance of Pulis’s reign and perhaps the season to date.

To those Sky Sports viewers not privy to Pulis’s early weeks in charge Boro’s attacking tandem of Bamford and Traore may seem like intelligent design.

The truth, however, is more one of happy circumstance. Pulis was quick to recognise the talents of Traore and bring them to the fore. He should be commended for that.

The central striker role though has proven to be somewhat trickier for Tony.

Pulis made his mind up fairly quickly that top scorer Britt Assombalonga was not his cup of tea. This meant that Rudy Gestede, a stereotypical Pulis towering striker, was chosen to lead the line.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

This always felt like a compromise until Pulis could bring his own pick in and so it proved with only a WhatsApp intervention preventing him from landing Aleksander Mitrovic, who has been on fire since his loan move to play-off rivals Fulham.

The end of the transfer window and the associated speculation meant that Rudy couldn’t fail and he promptly bagged a brace at home to Hull.  And promptly fractured his ankle.

Pulis needed a Plan B. A Plan Bamford.

All the while Bamford, who I believe is the most technically gifted footballer at Boro, had been shunted out on the left wing, a position that showcases his weaknesses and fails to exploit his strengths.

He had looked a shadow of the player that grabbed goals and the Championship Player of the Season award during his first spell at Boro.

But his brace in the disappointing 3-3 draw at Sunderland, including a sublime finish that evoked memories of the Bamford at old, resulted in him being given the nod to lead the line against Leeds.

He did not disappoint, blasting his first Boro hat-trick, before grabbing another in the club’s 3-1 victory over Barnsley on Saturday.

The restoration of Bamford to his favoured central striking position also elicited a tweak in the Pulis playing style.

Gone were the long balls that had previously been blasted up to Gestede. Instead, Boro tried to play the ball a bit higher up the pitch and that coupled with the Traore-Bamford tandem tore Leeds apart resulting in a win and a style of footballer that is easier on the eye.

In football, luck can be more important than judgment.

If Traore and Bamford stay fit and on form, Tony Pulis and Boro may look back and thank the day that Slavisa Jokanovic casually dropped Mitrovic a WhatsApp message.

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Will Middlesbrough’s transfer failings lead to a missed promotion opportunity?

A Middlesbrough side tipped for promotion at the beginning of the campaign has fallen victim to a managerial reshuffle and a transient transfer policy, writes Paul Ahdal.



Photo: Reuters

When I occasionally stray into some form of mild criticism of how Middlesbrough is run, I’m subjected to dismissive responses along the lines of “who are you to tell Steve Gibson how to run a business?”

The problem with this response is that a) Steve Gibson’s success was with Bulkhaul and b) that success hasn’t always been transferred to his running of the Boro.

I was left reflecting on these points as a third transfer window slammed shut on Wednesday evening.

Boro are onto their third different manager in successive windows and once again the deck has been shuffled to suit the new man in charge.

Given the transfer turnover and subsequent turmoil is it any wonder we’re yet to see a settled Boro side since the early part of 2016/17 season?

In that time, players have come and gone to suit the radically different tactical thoughts of each new man at the helm.

Performances and results have suffered and a team tipped for promotion would now be delighted to simply make the play-offs.

Players who were mainstays of the Garry Monk regime have been moved on and, for a team that has struggled to score, the decisions taken since, by Tony Pulis, are somewhat baffling.

Cyrus Christie had shown himself to be a good attacking full back at this level and was excellent in the early part of the season before his form dipped to match the team’s league position.

Meanwhile, Martin Braithwaite, heir apparent to the troublesome creative midfielder position, has been shipped out on loan to French first division outfit Bordeaux.

Both players were only signed in the summer, the Danish international for £9 million, and have since moved on from Teesside after less than a six month stay.

Braithwaite may have been inconsistent, but he was perhaps the only player of his kind in the Boro squad – one with the skill to unlock a tight defence.

Bearing in mind it was his first season in English football and he suffered with injuries early on, his contribution of six  goals and two assists showed signs of promise.

In the same vein, Christie still sits joint top of the Boro assist charts, with four.

For Pulis to seemingly make his mind up and discard both so early into his reign is wasteful and speaks volumes of the brand of football that he has in mind for the club.

On the subject of waste, who within the Boro hierarchy approved the transfers of Ashley Fletcher and Adlene Guedioura during Monk’s tenure?

Fletcher had never been a first team regular at higher than League One level. He was signed for big money by Championship standards, has never been given a run in the team and has now suffered the ultimate indignity, being loaned to Sunderland!

Did Boro really spend £6.5 million on a player who might fulfill his limited potential, or did they simply sign a player who was available in the hope that he would fit in somewhere in the first XI?

The club also forked out £3.5 million on a player who never came good, in Guedioura.

The Algerian midfielder made a handful of starts, was snubbed by every manager he played under and eventually had his contract cancelled. Not good business.

The issue here seems to be that players are signed based on the whim of whichever manager is in charge. It is important to back the manager but not at the cost of the club.

Boro need a management structure responsible for identifying and signing players with a long-term vision in mind, not simply at the behest of the newly arrived head coach, thus curtailing the current transfer turnover.

That way, supporters might start seeing the team play with some consistency and the prospect of promotion back to the Premier League may become a more realistic one.

Who am I to tell Steve Gibson about business?

I may lack certain business credentials, but one thing I do know is that the Boro owner wouldn’t tolerate a newly appointed director sacking key staff at Bulkhaul and replacing them with his own picks.

Why tolerate it at his football club?

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