Quick Preview: Middlesbrough (A)

Boro fan and former Middlesbrough FC Press Officer Andrew Clarke answers our questions ahead of Stoke’s trip to the Riverside Stadium…

What have you made of Boro’s season so far?

We started like a house on fire. However, that was due to the fact we were miles fitter than everyone else after TP had the whole squad busting a gut in the Alps for the best part of the summer.

It gave us an edge at the start of the season, but we look tired now and short on ideas.

The recent six-game losing streak which saw us drop out of the play-off places for the first time was just awful. Awful because it’s never nice to watch your team on such a dreadful run, but also because the football was so one-paced and predictable.

We lack pace and dynamism as a whole; it’s a team full of ‘ham and eggers’. We’ve also become woefully profligate in front of goal, which could be a bi-product of TP’s over-emphasis on the shape at the expense of all else, including integrating the attackers with the rest of the team.

On paper, we still have a lot of talented and experienced players. For me, the minimum expectation should be a play-off spot and that’s looking like an increasingly big ask at this stage. At this moment in time, it’s been a disappointment.

From the outside looking in, it seems like the knives are out a bit for Pulis, do you see him lasting much longer.

Discontent has been rife for a while. Let’s face it, Pulis is a very divisive manager. The detractors will swallow his brand of football while the results are decent, but when that’s not the case what are you left with? It’s definitely not entertainment!

The fans were openly calling for his head a few games ago, but the last two games have seen things quieten down a little.

Gibson will see the season out with him. If by some miracle, we do go up, he will probably be offered a year to stabilise us. Otherwise, he’ll be off in the summer.

What players should we be looking out for?

Ashley Fletcher is starting to fulfil a little of the promise he showed when scoring goals alongside Marcus Rashford for Manchester United and England as a teenager.

It’s taken him a while to establish himself, but a front two of Fletcher and Assombalonga does, at times, look pretty handy. It’s just a shame we’ve got a load of Pulis ‘ham and eggers’ behind them and no real creativity in the side!

We’ve got a few other players in the side who’ve had decent campaigns. Darren Randolph is a very good goalkeeper at this level, while Dael Fry, an academy graduate, has really excelled in defence.

Marcus Tavernier, another product of the academy, is capable of really hurting teams with his pacy, direct approach and ability to score goals. Predictably, TP is reluctant to give the impetuous youngster the time on the pitch his ability credits!

Are you worried about anyone from the Stoke side?

A couple actually. On paper Stoke have got a really good side for the Championship; Vokes is a handful and Joe Allen is a quality midfielder, but there’s plenty of others too.

Danny Batth was fine for us before Christmas and sod’s law dictates that he’ll pop up and nod one in against us!

If you don’t go up this season do you have the chairman/structure in place to give promotion

Steve Gibson’s reputation remains relatively unimpeachable, however, his decision making, especially in regard to our last few managerial appointments has been called into question lately.

That said, his heart is in the club and as long as he is in charge we will be well run and secure, which when you consider what’s happening to other clubs is a blessing.

If we don’t go up the emphasis will be on moving out some of the older, high-earning, underperforming players, and building the team around the likes of Randolph, Fry, Lewis Wing, Tavernier, Fletcher and Assombalonga.

We won’t be able to splash the cash, but with a few smart acquisitions and the right man at the helm (Woodgate has been touted…not too sure about that, mind) we could have the makings of a competitive side with plenty of promise next season.

Prediction…

TP has had an uncanny record against Stoke, so I’m banking on that continuing. Boro to come away from the Britannia, with a sneaky 0-1 win thanks to a stellar display from Randolph and a 85th minute Fletcher toe poke!

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