Pre-season friendly matches are a bit of an enigma because when you win them all you tell yourself that winning – regardless of the quality of the opposition – is a good habit to get into and sets you up in a confident mood for the first real game of the season.
Conversely – and because in ‘Boro’s case so far the results have been extremely average – (Accrington Stanley – who the hell’s Accrington Stanley?) you tell yourself that such games are meaningless and purely there to build up fitness before the not too easy trip to Millwall.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s the performances of the two teams in that particular game that could well define how the season might go. OK, it might be silly to read any kind of season-long forecast into just one result – especially the first of the season – but in this case we are going to learn a great deal from the trip to the Den.
Millwall performed admirably last season and at one time looked to be closing in on a promotion place only to fall at the last hurdle. ‘Boro, on the other hand, reached the play-offs but failed to negotiate the tricky double header with ‘Villa. So which team will be able to progress from last year’s optimistic performances to look a threat in this one?
A great deal will depend on the comings and the goings in the next couple of weeks because when you combine the fact that the World Cup has just ended with the rather early conclusion to this summer’s transfer window you know that a great deal is going to happen during that time.
With the limited finances available it’s hard to see anyone coming in who can make an enormous and immediate impact so keeping Traore and Gibson – the two most associated with Premier League interest – could turn out to be an essential ingredient to a successful season.
All the noises coming from the riverside suggest that Adama is quite happy to stay given his excellent relationship with Tony Pulis that is obviously built on Pulis’ own admiration of Traore’s character and ability.
Ben Gibson’s situation is slightly different because it’s fairly well documented that he was disappointed not to have been snapped up by a premiership club last season. Who knows, had he actually gone to West Brom they might still have been a Premier League club.
Southampton seem to be the most obvious suitors this time around and the purchase of Aden Flint might indicate that Pulis is resigned to life without the Chairman’s nephew. Money obviously talks and if the price is right every player can be considered a saleable asset. He’s a ‘Boro boy through and through though and if he did leave it would probably be as big a wrench for him as it would for his fans even if he was furthering his career.
The fact that Martin Braithwaite is now back and in training could actually be an advantage, though, because many thought he had the kind of ability that could win us matches. Unfortunately it doesn’t look as though Tony Pulis is among his admirers so he may well be on the move again after a reasonable World Cup.
Pulis obviously isn’t too keen on Assombalonga either so he may well be another one on the way elsewhere. It all remains to be seen and that last day pantomime could see a completely different scenario emerge.
So, let’s see what the next two weeks – and the last day circus of the transfer window – bring and what changes will be visible when we kick off at the Den. Whatever the personnel involved, though, let’s hope for a really positive start.