End of Season Review: Attackers















A look back on individual Boro performances from last season.

Part Three: Attackers


Middlesbrough fans will have been disappointed by the side finishing 10th last season as the side fell short of its top 6 hopes: The sides target at the start of the season. However, this season has been far from a failure for Middlesbrough due to the notable improvement on their finish two seasons ago. All the same, Middlesbrough will be looking to improve in the summer transfer market as the club looks to do one better in the 2021/2022 season by returning to the Premier League. The side has already dipped into the free transfers market by bringing former-QPR goalkeeper Joe Lumley to the club. The 26-year-old will likely start the season between the sticks for Boro. But it will depend on the other players that they bring in for the goalkeeper position between now and the start of next season.



To qualify for an end of season review the player had to have played over five games and have the potential to remain at the club next season, hence why the goalkeepers were excluded.


(I do not claim any of the images as my own: all sources are named and images are hyperlinked to the website that they were found. All research and sources used can be found at the end of the article)



Chuba Akpom

Middlesbrough was short on numbers upfront at the start of the season and so the club turned towards Turkish football for the answer. Chuba Akpom signed for the club in the summer of 2019. The former Arsenal forward put pen to paper on a deal that would cost the club £2m. It would go on to be one of the most controversial transfers in Middlesbrough's recent history. In the latter half of the season, Neil Warnock lamented the signing. He revealed that Akpom was signed based on footage of the player. The manager claimed that he could make anyone look good on video. This controversy stuck. Many fans directed their blame towards the scouting department despite the complex difficulties of a limited budget and covid limitations.



Regardless of personal views, Akpom's first season at Middlesbrough has to be considered a failure. The expectation was for the player to lead the line and supply the goals needed to push the team further up the league. Yet he would finish the season with just 5 goals and 2 assists. While proving to be largely ineffective to the sides overall play with fans believing that the player was watching games pass him by. Despite a disappointing season, there were occasional glimpses of the type of player that he could be. This especially came to the fore when he was able to play in the half-spaces where he seemed to become a little more mobile. Meanwhile this is Akpom's first season back in English football, which by itself holds a lot of challenges, as does dealing with a pregnant significant other and an infant during this adaption and so this may have also had an impact on his performances this season.


Overall, there is no doubting that Akpom had a disappointing season. His bleak future at Middlesbrough, and expectations for him to leave the club, meaning that he could become a blip in the history of Middlesbrough when a player was signed from video clips.


Rating:

5/10


Next Season:

Unsurprisingly, there have been some rumours that the 25-year-old will be departing the Riverside Stadium this season. Middlesbrough will have to do the leg work on any future transfer, as there will be lacking suitors following a less than impressive first season back in England. This means that Middlesbrough fans may see the player leave temporarily, such as a season-long loan, where the bulk of his wages are paid by the club the player is loaded to. This will help to free up some wages for alternative signings in the striker position as the club is lacking in this area following the departure of Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher.


Alternatively, Middlesbrough may swerve the bullet and keep the player next season. He is the only auxiliary striker at the club at the coming into the summer transfer window and these players usually command high fees, something Boro may not be able to afford this season. Another possibility to consider is that this has been an adjustment period for Chuba Akpom, which every player has to deal with but particularly during a time where his significant other has been pregnant and given birth to a baby and so we may not have seen the best of the player in a Boro shirt and that may be to come next season.


Yet, in all likelihood, Chuba Akpom will be lining up for a different team in three months.



Duncan Watmore:

A surprise package for Middlesbrough this season, Duncan Watmore started his Middlesbrough career on a trail at Rockcliffe Hall. The former Sunderland wide man struggled with injuries in recent seasons, which had limited his suitors when his contract at the Stadium of Light ended. Neil Warnock decided to take a chance on the ‘ginger Messi’ who proved to be one of the sides best performers last season.



He played in every position across the front line last season and he mixed tireless effort, good dribbles, solid off the ball movement and impressive finishing to become a serious threat at Championship level. He would also become Middlesbrough’s top goalscorer with 9 goals, despite waiting until November to get his first appearance in a Boro shirt, while also adding a single assist. Watmore's biggest concern is his fragility. He rarely played a full game for Boro last season, usually coming off in the second half or coming on as an impact substitute. So, despite having an impressive season, he has failed to play the minutes which represent his importance to the side. Which is unlikely to change next season either as due to the physical demands that would require of his injury prone body.


Overall, Watmore had a very impressive season last time out and he will want to build on it next season.


Rating:

8.5/10


Next Season:

It would be a massive surprise if Duncan Watmore wasn’t a Boro player come next season. The former Sunderland man has certainly done enough to earn his place in the squad and it is unlikely that Warnock will allow the player to leave the club, aside from a considerable transfer offer.


Where will he start next season? Anywhere and everywhere. The player has proven to be capable in every attacking role last season and Warnock will certainly be looking to recruit in attacking areas next season. The Sheffield-born manager may look towards the 27-year-old to plug gaps should they appear or come on as an impact sub, helping to limit the stresses that the game may have on his body and thus keeping him fit for a second whole season in a row.



Marcus Browne:

Marcus Browne is now a player that is on the periphery of most Boro fans thoughts. There was a lot of discussion about the player following a successful end to the 2019/2020 season on loan at Oxford United. While at the U’s he managed to play in several roles, including leading the line as he impressed the Oxford United hierarchy into enquiring about his availability. Middlesbrough, and Neil Warnock, had also taken note of this and preseason interviews indicated that Browne was up for the fight for a place in the Middlesbrough starting XI. However disaster struck for the former West Ham United player as an injury left him on the treatment table for the bulk of the season, and he is not expected to return to full fitness until September.



So it is difficult to review the players season across the 5 games that he played but he certainly looked promising at times and it felt like a real loss when he became unavailable for selection. The 23-year-old will be hoping to be fit and fighting come next season though wherever it may lead him.


Rating:

6/10


Next Season:

The left-winger looked as though he was going to stake a claim for a place in the side last summer and he may aim to do the same this year. While he is in an advantageous position to stake a claim to a permanent role in the first XI as his position is currently understaffed. If he can get a shoe in the door before recruitment gets into full swing then he may become a more permanent feature next season.


Alternatively, Marcus Browne has made just 18 championship appearances for Middlesbrough across two seasons and he may be frustrated by the outcome of his time at the club, although little fault can be given to the club, he may wish to turn the page and begin a fresh start. While, since he isn’t integral to Warnock’s plans, then it's unlikely that the club will step in the way of this desire if the price is right.


Ultimately, Browne’s future is currently unknown and unpredictable, standing on a precipice between establishing himself as a solid first-team player and starting afresh, this season could go either way for the wide man.



Hayden Coulson

The Gateshead born player was one of the players that shone under Johnathan Woodgate but he has struggled under Neil Warnock. The Sheffield born manager appreciates his work rate and highlights the fact that the player certainly has on the ball talent but making the most of the 22-year-old has been something of an enigma.



The former Cambridge United loanee has been deployed as a right-back, left-back, left-winger, right-winger and a number 10 this season with varying degrees of success. He looked at his worst at right-back, struggled defensively at times at left-back, which is unacceptable in a Neil Warnock fullback, but there were promising signs of what he could do when deployed further up the pitch. However, he struggled to turn flickers of possibility into consistent performances and so Warnock remained unconvinced about the player throughout the season.


In the 22-year-olds defence, he was only a bit-part player which hindered his ability to adjust to the new demands imposed on him by his manager. He played a total of 633 minutes last season, averaging just 127 minutes per different position or one and 1/2 games per position. This ultimately prevented him from being able to adjust to the expectations of new roles that were wholly foreign to the player having never played some of them ever before.

Rating:

6/10


Next Season:

Neil Warnock may decide to move Coulson on as a spare part that doesn’t fit into his designs for the squad to bring in funds to purchase players elsewhere. However, it's important to urge caution in this decision. It is important to consider the constraints of this season, both on the squad generally and a player aiming to adapt to a new role when there is little time afforded on the training ground that isn’t wholly focused on the next game such as the compact season. Instead, it may be a good idea to give Coulson a second chance to impress. Pick a position for him to play pre-season and potentially beyond, with left-wing or No. 10 appears to have the most substantial chance of success and put serious effort into retraining him into this role as there have been serious indications that he could be a great success higher up the pitch with more preparation time.


Alternatively, the sale of Coulson would help to bring in the funds needed to augment a thin squad, should an appropriate bid be made.



Conclusion:

Middlesbrough is seriously lacking in quality and depth in the attacking areas of the field and so expectations are for the club to bring in, or at least attempt, to bring in some recruits in these areas. The club currently has two options at left-wing, of varying levels of effectiveness, and the club could do with at least one proven Championship option on this side of the attack. On the right, Watmore is arguably an option but previously mentioned issues mean that he cannot be relied upon as a constant in the side and so the club could do with two right-wingers, with Jordan Jones among others being linked with the side in the latter stages of the season. Finally, Middlesbrough is massively lacking upfront. Neil Warnock has revealed his desire to have four options up top and at the moment he has just one, a player that he has been unconvinced by so far, so he will be urging the club to bring in at least 3 options in these areas and potentially a fourth if Akpom departs before the end of the summer.


It is in attacking areas where most questions will arise in the summer and an improvement on last seasons mid-table finish will largely depend on what happens in these forward areas.


It is in attacking areas where most questions will arise in the summer and an improvement on last seasons mid-table finish will largely depend on what happens in these forward areas.



Sources:

fotmob

whoscored

gazettelive



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