Over recent years, Boro fans have seen their team get gradually worse, season after season, following relegation in 2017. This is due, in the most part, to poor recruitment and selling the side’s best players.
While the second factor is understandable, with the financial burdens on the club, the former is unforgivable over a larger period of time.
Two of the best signings since Middlesbrough’s relegation have been Marc Bola and Anfernee Dijksteel, who both arrived under Jonathan Woodgate in 2019.
If any fan had read this while Woodgate was in charge would have thought it was ludicrous, but both full backs developed well in their second season at the club, under Neil Warnock. To which factor this should be attributed to the most is still up for debate.
But the signing of Bola, Dijksteel and Marcus Browne – who suffered an injury just as he was about to break into Warnock’s starting 11 – signify a type of recruitment that Middlesbrough have sparingly utilised, even going back to the 90s under Bryan Robson.
Buying and developing lower league talent.
Should Boro want to go down this route, here are three options who could improve their side.
Despite signing a new deal last February, and manager Danny Cowley anticipating the Irish winger to be a Portsmouth player by the end of their preseason begins at then end of June, Curtis has been attracting Championship interest, as he has been for a number of years.
The Pompey playmaker scored 10 goals and assisted 7 times in 42 League One games (0.4 g/a per game.) His 2.2 shots per game is tied for the 15th most in the third tier too, compared to Yannick Bolasie’s 2 shots per game which was the best in Boro’s squad.
Blackburn are longstanding admirers of Curtis, with Cardiff, Derby and Reading also credited with interest, Middlesbrough could face a bidding war for his services.
It could prove to be worth it, however, for a player of his quality.
Alternatives to Curtis: Marcus Harness, Portsmouth (7g, 8a) ; Charlie Kirk, Crewe (6g, 8a)
Warnock will be eager to add a target man to his side this summer and, while standing at six feet tall questions may be asked, Accrington’s Colby Bishop could be the answer.
Bishop notched up 10 goals, 5 assists for Stanley last season, as well as averaging 2 shots per game and 1.4 key passes. The closest any Boro player came to these stats was Marcus Tavernier’s 1.8 shots per game and 1.3 key passes per game.
Despite being six feet tall, Bishop notched up 6.8 aerial duals won per game – with aerial ability listed as a key strength on whoscored.com – ranking him 5th for duals won in league one, behind three centre backs and Charlton’s Jayden Stockley.
Bishop could be a cheap option to add to the forward line and could bring the best out of fellow striker Chuba Akpom, as Bishop’s strike partner Dion Charles netted 17 times last season. But Middlesbrough should act fast, as Huddersfield and Ipswich – under their new ownership – have been linked this summer.
Alertnatives: Charlie Wyke, Sunderland (26 G, 3A) ; Paul Mullin, Cambridge (32G, 4A.)
Oxford United’s Robert Atkinson is already attracting attention from Bristol City, according to Football Insider, but the 22 year old should be considered by Steve Gibson this year if he looks to improve Boro’s defence.
Atkinson averaged 2.1 interceptions per game and a 7.43 rating on whoscored.com – with Dijksteel’s 1.9 interceptions and Dael Fry’s 7.03 average rating the closest in Boro’s side.
Adding Atkinson to Boro’s depth at centre back, with injuries hampering Fry, Dijksteel and Grant Hall’s previous campaign and Paddy McNair’s ever present season, can only be a good thing.
Alternatives: Cameron Burgess, Accrington (2.3 tackles, 2.2 interceptions p/g) ; Jack Tucker, Gillingham (1.2 tackles, 2.7 interceptions p/g)