As we leave the Easter weekend behind the Championship heavyweights are limbering up to slug it out for promotion.
Wolves have blitzed through the Championship like Anthony Joshua. Cardiff have taken Dillian Whyte approach in scrappily battling their way to the top end of the rankings.
Much like David Price, Leeds United stopped all comers early on before plummeting down the table following some bad knockout losses.
Boro? At the minute they resemble a Derek Chisora, comfortably dealing with low-level opposition but falling short every time they step up in class.
This is not a new problem. Boro have taken only six points from 33 against the sides in the top eight.
Garry Monk had managed to keep the club in touch with the play-off pack but failure to pick up points against promotion rivals (he lost key games against the likes of Cardiff, Derby and Wolves) cost him his job.
It was hoped that the appointment of Tony Pulis would give Boro the steel required to bite down on the gum shield and pick up the points in bruising battles against their rivals.
However, to date, Pulis has yet to find a formula for fighting back in these fixtures.
The recent run of 14 points from a possible 18 that propelled Boro into the play-offs came from a run of fixtures against sides mired in mid-table or lower – just the kind of games that Monk used to pick up points from.
Prior to that run, Boro endured disappointing defeats against rivals Aston Villa and Cardiff.
Since then, Boro started well on Good Friday before falling apart at home to Wolves, another of the Championships top teams, after conceding and couldn’t salvage anything from the game despite the opposition being reduced to nine men.
Boro have the resources to put this problem right. The squad is packed with players who can pick up points in key games, many of them being part of the Aitor Karanka squad that took four points off rivals Burnley and Brighton to secure promotion.
In the season prior to that, defeats at Bournemouth and Watford cost Boro an automatic spot so we all know how crucial these fixtures can be. Upcoming bouts against fellow contenders Sheffield United, Bristol City, Derby and Millwall may well decide what division Boro are playing in next season.
Only managing a draw at basement boys Burton on Easter Monday means that it will now be difficult to hold onto the coveted 6th place and a final play-off spot.
Pulis has to learn how to land the knockout blow in these games otherwise Boro will be beaten to the promotion punch and left lamenting a season in which they could have been contenders.
One winner, one loser as Mo Besic heads to Middlesbrough
Everton’s Bosnian midfielder was also linked with Leeds United.
As reported by Sky Sports News, Mo Besic is on the verge of a permanent move to Middlesbrough. The Everton midfielder spent the latter half of last season on loan at the Riverside, impressing during his time at the club.
The deal is said to be worth around £6 million and will help Boro in their push for promotion.
But who else might it help and who has lost out because of this deal?
Here is one winner and one loser from the Besic to Middlesbrough deal…
Winner – James McCarthy
The Republic of Ireland midfielder is currently out of action after suffering a horror leg-break last season. However, he recently returned to light training and is targeting a return to action before the end of the year.
With Besic out of the way, there is very little stopping him from moving straight back into the first-team fold at Everton with Idrissa Gana Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and any potential new central midfield signing.
Loser – Leeds United
Prior to a deal being struck with Boro, it appeared Leeds United might have been closing in on the Bosnian.
Marcelo Bielsa is still in need of a new central midfielder after losing Ronaldo Vieira to Sampdoria.
However, Leeds will now need to look elsewhere in order to fill the void.
Jordan Hugill’s Middlesbrough loan is just what the West Ham outcast needs
The former Preston striker has made just three appearances for the Hammers.
The season-long switch to Boro is exactly what the West Ham outcast needs to get his career back on track, as he will become part of a fearsome attacking line at the Riverside Stadium.
Hugill made the big-money Premier League switch to east London in January from Preston North End, but has endured a torrid time at the London Stadium. The striker made just three league appearances for West Ham, racking up a grand total of 22 minutes for the club.
It signifies a harsh change of fortune for Hugill, after he scored 20 goals in his last season and a half at Deepdale.
The 26-year-old Englishman is now desperate for playing time and a return to goalscoring form, and the move to Tony Pulis’ promotion chasing side represents the ideal move for Hugill.
The striker will be returning back to the Championship, a familiar league where Hugill enjoyed his best form as a footballer. In addition, he will be joining forces with an already formidable strikeforce, featuring the likes of Britt Assombalonga, Rudy Gestede, and Ashley Fletcher.
While playing alongside fellow experienced Champisonhip frontmen such as Assombalonga and Gestede, Hugill can rediscover his true form and kickstart his floundering career.
Few would have expected his first four months at West Ham to be so deflating, but the centre-forward now has the opportunity to play consistent football for a quality Championship side.
With crucial first-team minutes under his belt, Jordan Hugill will be primed to reignite his career and become a goal-scoring star on loan at Middlesbrough.
Tony Pulis should target loan reunion with Yannick Bolasie as Adama Traore replacement
Yannick Bolasie was a star for Crystal Palace under Tony Pulis.
Yannick Bolasie appears to be on his way out of Everton this summer. TeamTALK reported yesterday that the DR Congo winger is in danger of being left out of Everton’s 25-man Premier League squad. They also suggest, should Everton fail to find a buyer by Thursday’s deadline, Championship teams could be in luck with a loan move.
If that is the case, then Middlesbrough must make a move.
The Teessiders are set to lose their star winger. Adama Traore is all set for a move to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Bolasie would be the perfect replacement.
Everton paid £25 million to sign Bolasie from Crystal Palace in 2016. His ability and skill are not in question. Injury has impacted his time at Goodison Park but he is now fully fit. Bolasie would, therefore, be a bargain if snapped up on a reasonable loan.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Tony Pulis. Yeah (I was sad when he left), a little bit. He’s the one that gave me a lot of confidence. He come in and told me to believe in myself. He kept telling me I’m a ‘top, top player’. Those exact words. And I’d laugh at it. I’d go: ‘Ha ha’. But he said: ‘No, I’m being serious.’”
Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis also knows him well. The Welshman got the best out of Bolasie during his spell working as Crystal Palace manager.
It was a working relationship that was clearly profitable for both parties. It was the sort of form he exhibited under Pulis, that led Everton to spend big on the electric winger two years ago.
If Middlesbrough boss Pulis can lure Bolasie back for a reunion, then they might just have their Traore replacement.
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