Post-Season Review: Strikers
This series is going to review each of Middlesbrough's remaining squad members based on their performances last season, finishing on a rating out of 10. Before looking to the future as a forecast for what Middlesbrough fans could expect from each player moving forward.
The squad members have been split into their different positions including Goalkeeper, Fullback, Centre back, Central Midfield, Wingers and Strikers. Each of which will be covered in a separate article.
This article will cover strikers.
Assombalonga is a marmite player with one faction seeing him as good a striker that you can get at this level without him being poached by Premier League teams. On the other hand, the other faction see his as a lackadaisical striker who misses more opportunities than he converts to a point that he isn't worth keeping at the club.
There will be an article in the near future describing the latter relationship with the striker in more detail so keep up to date with upcoming articles by following my instagram: @riverside_observer_boro or subscribing to this website.
The DR Congo striker scored 11 goals last season, which is a decent return, but it is someway from the 15 goals he has consistently scored in recent seasons. However he played through a lot of the season with an injury that could well have hindered his play both physically and mentally which in turn curbed his overall goalscoring.
When he collects the ball some way from the goal he often looks to turn to face the opposition goal, from here dribbles towards and across the defensive line, and he has shown himself to be consistently good at such dribbling moves. However he often dribbles with his head down which means that he misses good opportunities to pass the ball to players in better positions.
Meanwhile his hold up play can leave something to be desires as although he can compete with Championship centre backs physically, he sometimes fails to position himself in the best place to guard the ball from the incoming defenders.
He isn best with instinctive finishes as the more time he has to consider an opportunity the more he tends to over think it; in turn putting in timid or wayward shots. On the other hand, he can pick out other players in the box with a fee impressive assists this season, which considering the team played a major part of last season with one striker is no small feat.
Perhaps his worst asset is his defensive work rate as he seems content in letting play pas him by even if he is well within the distance needed to disrupt the oppositions play.
Last season, he wasn't at his best and it would be reasonable to assume that his injury had an effect on some of his performances. However his goals equalled a considerable points hall and without which, Middlesbrough would be playing their trade in League One in the upcoming season and so he deserves some extra credit.
Neil Warnock has confirmed that Assombalonga is going to be wearing the captains armband next season, a decision that had been made during preseason when he was banded the captaincy for a number of friendlies. This will disappoint Boro fans who wanted to see the 27 year old leave the club this summer as it shows that he is in the managers plans for next season.
Assombalonga was shocked by the managers request to wear the armband and he stated in an interview with the Evening Gazette that he didn't originally see himself as a leader in the team, until it dawned on him that as one of the older player and long serving players he was now just that.
There is a possibility that Warnock has given him the captaincy so he can recognise his importance to the team next season in the hope that he will find extra motivation to score the goals needed to shoot Boro up the league. Whether this will turn him from a 15 goal a season striker to a 20 goal a season striker, is yet to be seen. However early signs seem to be promising.
There is still a chance that the DR Congo International will be shipped to another club as Boro want to bring in funds to fuel their work in the transfer window as he is one of Boro's most sellable assets who is coming to the end of his contract. However the chance of him moving on has greatly diminished with him becoming the club captain.
If there was an award for them most improved player after signing for the club then Ashley Fletcher would surely win.
Boro signed the striker from West Ham, whose supporters were upset to see him go, having thought he showed promise in the few Premier League games that he had featured in.
However it seemed like a weird decision from the club early on as despite him having good link up play, being ale to progress the ball forward and creating chances, he had little to no impact in front of goal.
However, he vastly improved after an adjustment period and a loan spell to Sunderland and last season he was the best striker at the club last season, as his goal and assists stats prove. He also had good link up play with the midfield and wingers which shows him to be more of an advanced forward than a poacher or target man.
He is at his best when he is central to the teams play going forward and in return marks high on player touches and passes in the opposition's half during his best performances. He is also happy to dribble, sometimes penetrating the defensive line.
If he can build on last season and become more clinical then he may well get 15 goals next season.
It has been a surprise that Fletcher hasn't received more interest from clubs that finished higher in the league after his performances last season. In turn it means that there is less of a chance that Fletcher will get poached this season.
Warnock will be happy with keeping the tall striker around the club as he gave him a decent run in during the final stages of the season and he showed his worth in both build up play and in being an effective threat.
He will most likely be frequently included in the team sheet next season.
Neil Warnock has publicly recognised the capabilities of his two experienced strikers noting how it may well be hard to better them in a tight market with a low budget. Yet the manager also prefers to have four striking options in his squad and so the team is currently short of this ideal.
This shouldn't be any concern to Assombalonga or Fletcher, however, as it appears there on and off the field relationship has reaped some serious benefits last season. In all likelihood Warnock will hope to maximise the on field rewards of this relationship by frequently playing the pair; be that as two strikers of with Fletcher on the wing cutting in.
Meanwhile with Boro struggling to bring in strikers, there may be an opening for academy graduate Steven Walker. The home grown player consistently shows desire and hard work that is paired with a clear appreciation for any minutes he get for the team he has grown up supporting. He has also had a few successful loan moves recently and so he will see himself as capable of the jump up and so Boro fans get to watch with interest as he stakes a claim for more first team action.