Middlesbrough Season Preview: Gibson should stay

Back in August, Middlesbrough were perceived to have a better squad than their fellow promotion-winners, Burnley and Hull. By May, they finished as the lowest of the trio, relegated in 19th place with just 27 goals, a figure no top flight side has scored fewer than in nearly a decade.Was relegation largely down to defensive tactics? Supporter James Cartwright from The Teesside Football Blog has his say ahead of the new season.

That was certainly a factor. I think at times Boro were guilty of being too cautious, one game where that was evident was the 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace. That particular game for myself was the one that made me think we were going down.

I also came to the conclusion that overall the squad was perhaps not as good as initially thought. Adama Traore, while our most exciting attacking player, leaves a lot to be desired in the final third. Adam Clayton, arguably our best player at times, is not dynamic enough to be fully impactful in the Premier League. The general saturation of the side through lots of signings was also a big factor.

Garry Monk has taken charge after a good season at Leeds. After a year of what looked like three holding midfielders, do you expect a return to 4-2-3-1?

I am hoping Monk will be able to show a bit more tactical flexibility than Karanka did. With Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede in the side I would like to see how they fare as a front pairing.

New signing Jonny Howson has been among Norwich’s best players over the last two seasons. Is Adam Clayton and Marten De Roon’s place under threat?

Not particularly, given the amount of games in the Championship I imagine there will be plenty of opportunities for them to play. I would like to see occasions where all three play as I think it would work well. Clayton’s solid defensive midfield role supported by the industry of De Roon and the dynamism of Howson would equal quite a midfield.

You had the best ‘goals against’ record in the bottom half of the Premier League. Are you glad the likes of Ben Gibson and George Friend haven’t left yet?

Of course. Ben Gibson has a chance to continue doing something special at this football club. I certainly think with his talent he deserves to playing in the Premier League but I think he should not just move there for the sake of it. I would have problem if he were to move to a bottom-half team as I don’t see that as step up. Therefore he might as well try to win promotion with his boyhood club.

As for George Friend, I am delighted to see him still at the football club. More so for his off the field work than what he does on the field. I don’t ancipate him having quite the impact he did last time we were in the Championship. Although I will gladly allow him to prove myself wrong.

Right-back Cyrus Christie joins from Derby. Will he go forward more willingly than Antonio Barragan?

I can imagine so, after watching him at Derby for the last few seasons that appears to be a big part of his game. If I am honest I will just appreciate a solid right-back after the horror-show that was Barragan.

Victor Valdes was far too good to stay in the Championship while Brad Guzan had some terrible games in his absence. After Connor Ripley’s outstanding season at Oldham, is there a chance for him to grab the number one spot?

He deserves a look in but by what I gather from the transfer market it appears likely Middlesbrough will bring in a goalkeeper. If not, it’s time for Ripley to shine.

Gaston Ramirez scored a remarkable goal against Bournemouth last year. In the right system, could he do well in the Championship?

Absolutely. Look back at our promotion season he revitalised the promotion push with his performances. I know the fans are not on the best of terms with him at the moment but such is his talent he is one of those footballers you can afford to forgive. In my opinion no one in the Boro squad is more talented than Ramirez.

With Viktor Fischer leaving and Stewart Downing and Adama Traore linked with moves away, is a winger or two needed?

I think that is what the focus should be. Wingers are vital in the Championship because the game is played in a more ‘classic’ way if that is the right way to put it. Who we should sign I cannot say.

James Beattie has taken some credit for Chris Wood’s form at Leeds last year. Given that Rudy Gestede has scored goals elsewhere, could his coaching help them?

Chris Wood looked like a bit of a waste of money when he first arrived at Leeds but you could tell Beattie had given him the instinct back. Gestede knows the Championship and knows how to get goals in it. Having Beattie there can only boost that potential.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think Wolves have to be considered because their transfer business. Ruben Neves is a major coup. Fulham will again be up there in my opinion, they have a young dynamic team that is on the up. By getting relegated Hull City have lost all that positive momentum they somewhat built up towards the backend of last season. Now they have Russian Leonid Slutsky in charge, who while largely experienced in Russia is a complete novice to the English game. As for Sunderland, years of poor management at board level has caught up to them and now they seem a relatively average Championship team. I can envisage them doing what Aston Villa did last season.

Where will you finish?

As for where Middlesbrough finish, if I were a neutral I would tip them to bounce straight back. Although, how many times has the Championship completely surprised us?

The Football Lab’s Verdict

With Ramirez and Gestede staying on, Middlesbrough have more attacking quality than their defensive tactics last year led many to think. They have added shrewdly to the core of a sturdy rear-guard, putting them in the best position of the three relegated clubs. 2nd




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