Championship preview: Can Tony Pulis bring Middlesbrough up?
Middlesbrough will be hoping that they can be in the promotion picture in the Championship this season. The North-East side finished 5th in the last campaign, but lost in the play-offs to Aston Villa over two legs. Confidence is high among their fans that they can take the next step into the promised land this time around.
Boro have made two signings in Paddy McNair and Aden Flint so far, but are hoping to do more before the market slams shut. With a couple more acquisitions to add depth to their squad, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the upcoming season. Tony Pulis' side were ranked amongst the best defensive records in the second tier last season. They'll be hoping to build from the back once again.
Pulis is the man in the hot-seat at the Riverside, he will be under pressure to get them promoted next season. Middlesbrough's owner, Steve Gibson, sacked Garry Monk in December and gave the experienced boss a route back into management in the Championship after he was dismissed by West Bromwich Albion.
Boro spent close to £50million on new signings last summer so there is expectation aplenty. They have spent over £10million already this time around. There is now no excuses for their Welsh manager. The fans are behind him currently, but they will no doubt be on his back if results don't go his way. West Brom supporters got frustrated with him in the last campaign in the Premier League due to his defensive style of play and tactics, so he is no stranger to criticism.
Middlesbrough have snapped up commanding defender Flint from fellow Championship side Bristol City for £7million. Pulis sides like to utilise corners and set pieces and Flint fits in well at Boro. The 6ft 5' defender scored 9 goals in the league for Bristol City last season. Pulis has also swooped to sign the versatile McNair from Sunderland. The Northern Ireland international became a man in-demand after the Black Cats' relegation to League One. The former Manchester United man has been a standout player in a struggling Sunderland side over the past couple of years.
In terms of outgoings, Boro have had a clear-out and have sold left-back Fabio to FC Nantes, Antonio Barragan to Real Betis, Tomas Meijes to Omonia Nicosia, they've also released defender Martin Crainie.
Middlesbrough are still in the hunt for some midfield options to bolster their squad. They have been linked with a move for Liverpool's Sheyi Ojo as well as QPR attacking midfielder Luke Freeman. They are also keen on signing another goalkeeper as a long-term replacement for 39-year-old Dimi Konstantopolous.
Pulis has an extremely experienced core of players at Middlesbrough. The likes of George Friend, Ben Gibson, Grant Leadbitter and Stewart Downing all will play a vital part for them next season. Britt Assombalonga, who bagged 15 goals last term, is hoping to do the business to help get Middlesbrough back to the Premier League. Another player who will be key to Boro's success is Adama Traore, who could potentially still leave them before the end of the transfer window. The tricky winger is their most prized asset but has been attracting interest from Premier League sides such as Wolves and Huddersfield Town. Keeping hold of him will be massive for Pulis.
Youngster Marcus Tavernier is highly-rated by Middlesbrough. The 19-year-old winger broke into their first-team last season before spending the remainder of the campaign with MK Dons on loan. Boro also have big plans for defender Dael Fry. He has already played 22 times for them, while looking set for a big future at the Riverside.
Boro have loaned out Hayden Coulson, George Miller and Joe Fryer to St Mirren, Bradford City and Carlisle United respectively, as they look to gain some first-team football in the lower leagues. Youngsters Luke Armstrong and Aynsley Pears have both joined National League side Gateshead on season-long loan deals as Middlesbrough look to help out a fellow North-East side.
Middlesbrough are genuine title contenders in the Championship and will be mounting a promotion push next season. They have a great blend of experience and quality in their squad. Their defence is probably the best in the division and the signings of Flint and McNair further bolster this department. They have some top quality options in midfield with the likes of Adam Clayton and Stewart Downing. A couple more signings in midfield would give them even more creativity. Then they are a real threat going forward with Assombalonga and Traore hoping to set the Championship alight.