It was a bit of a brutal indication of just how tough the upcoming season looks when the fixtures were released to reveal our first two games would be against newly relegated Watford and Bournemouth. OK, you have to play these teams at some point, but with the deafening silence on incoming transfers and more than seven regulars leaving from last season we really do have a mountain to climb from day one….. or do we?
Yes, we’ve lost a number of players who appeared quite a lot last season but to be fair, how many of those players would we have wanted to keep on the strength of their performances during that period? Perhaps the main man to have gone is George Friend and while I would be the last person to criticise George in any way after a tremendous eight years of sterling service to Middlesbrough – both on and off the field – I have to say there were obvious signs of him slowing down and becoming less productive. So with the majority of fans looking for more pace and definitely more creativity will we really miss him?
A glance at the other out-of-contract players to have gone tells a similar story. Adam Clayton has done well in his time but he’s not getting any younger, and perhaps the same can be said for both Daniel Ayala, who often looked like an accident waiting to happen, and Ryan Shotton who has never really convinced. And finally, how many will mourn the loss of Rudi Gestede’s questionable contribution during his time at the Riverside? That all these players would have been on wages at the top end of the Championship scale that can now be used to improve the team is perhaps the main advantage of their departures. Loan-wise, we have also lost Harold Moukoudi, who Warnock obviously didn’t see as a centre back, Lucas N’Mecha who added absolutely nothing during his loan spell, Ravel Morrison who was never really given a chance so obviously hadn’t performed in training, and finally Patrick Roberts – perhaps the only loanee who looked as if he could improve the side. So, being blunt, the only thing we have lost is numbers.
Grant Hall is so far the only on-field arrival and it can be said he’s a typical Warnock signing, bringing as he does both experience and strength. That the club continues to try and generate further signings without much success so far is an excellent indication of the current climate on the football scene. And we can’t really expect it to suddenly improve. That means that we are going to have to rely considerably on what we already have, but to be honest I don’t think that’s a particularly bad thing. Some of the younger players that came through last season to stake a claim as possible future first team regulars can only have improved with the experience they have already enjoyed.
Young men like Dael Fry, Marcus Tavernier, Ainsley Pears, Djed Spence, Hayden Coulson and Anfernee Dijksteel all contributed to the season and all have a long career ahead of them. And hopefully, the more established players still with us like Paddy McNair, Jonny Howson, Lewis Wing, Marvin Johnson, Ashley Fletcher and Britt Asssombalonga can all benefit from playing under the vast experience of Neil Warnock. On the transfer front we can only wait and see what happens over the next couple of weeks, but those first two games will be a good indication of how we will cope with the season and what effect the apparently excellent training schedules already undertaken by Warnock can generate.
Sky Bet are currently quoting odds of 11-1 against relegation and 11-2 for promotion so it’s fairly obvious that they rate us as just a mid table prospect. After the panic of the last few weeks of the season just gone that might be a bit of a relief, but being a typical ‘Boro fan I’m looking for so much more than that. October 3rd seems a long way off but that is apparently when the league is forecasting a return of crowds to grounds – albeit on a reduced scale!
It will be interesting to see where we sit in the league by then, but regardless of that, I for one simply can’t wait.
Let’s all hope for the best.