Neil Warnock's transfer to-do list as Middlesbrough face big decisions
Wednesday, 23rd Sep 2020 12:00 by Phil Spencer
Tick, tick, tick. The transfer clock is ticking.
For Middlesbrough there is simply no time for hitting the snooze button.
This slimmed down summer period has given the Teessiders little room for manoeuvre in the transfer market, and so the pressure is on.
With first team stars such as Daniel Ayala, Ryan Shotton, George Friend, Adam Clayton and Rudy Gestede all moving on this summer there's been significant work to do.
Grant Hall, Marcus Bettinelli, Sam Morsy and new arrival Chuba Akpom have all completed moves to the north east, but with under two weeks remaining there's still significant work to do before the window slams shut.
Here are the main items on Neil Warnock's transfer to-do list.
Offloading a goalkeeper
Few expected this to be an area of focus for Neil Warnock this summer, but the experienced gaffer was clearly unhappy with something.
Aynsley Pears and Dejan Stojanovic were expected to battle it out for the number one jersey, but the addition of Marcus Bettinelli on loan suggested a lack of confidence in the existing duo.
With the Fulham stopper likely to be Warnock's main man between the sticks, a decision has to be made on the others.
Stojanovic only arrived in January and so may need time to settle into the English game.
The local lad has less than a year left on his contract, and with no agreement over an extension imminent his future is uncertain.
Middlesbrough need to either give him a contract and loan him out, or look to cash in to recoup the highest fee possible.
The latter seems most likely, and will surely be encouraged as the club simply can't afford to lose such a talented player for nothing next summer.
Signing a natural defender
For a team who had so many defenders last season we never imagined that this would be an issue.
Neil Warnock prefers to play with three central defenders, but with only two natural fits in the first team squad it's easy to do the maths.
Grant Hall has come in and will be a key player, while Dael Fry will also take his place in the first team when his match sharpness is up to speed.
The third spot is up for debate.
Anfernee Dijksteel has been mightily impressive in that position so far this term and will certainly have given Warnock food for thought.
Paddy McNair can also do a job at the back, but the general consensus among supporters is that we need to get him back into midfield as soon as possible to get the best out of him.
Signing a natural defender seems like a real priority with less than two weeks remaining of the window, and this will be key to building a robust foundation for the season ahead.
Shipping some youngsters out on loan
Middlesbrough are a club who pride themselves on developing young talent and integrating them into the first team fold.
Unfortunately it seems that there's a sizeable gap between the club's first team stars and the current crop of under-23 starlets.
Of course we've seen the likes of Djed Spence, Hayden Coulson and Marcus Tavernier step up into the role of established first team players.
They have joined players such as Dijksteel, Marc Bola and Marcus Browne as young players who have come from elsewhere and are pushing for first team involvement.
Then there's the likes of Nathan Wood who is on the cusp of the first team, with plenty of time for development given that he's only 18. Sam Folarin also seems to fall into this category.
But then there's the middle group - 'the inbetweeners', if you will.
These are players such as Sol Brynn, Ben Liddle, Connor Malley, Stephen Walker, Tyrone O'Neill.
First team opportunities are highly unlikely for these players, and that means that their development could stall with another season in the under-23s.
With that in mind a loan switch would surely be the best option.
Funds are limited in the lower levels of the EFL due to the ongoing pandemic, but if Middlesbrough can find clubs who are willing to take their players in the short-term then it could be hugely beneficial for the young players as they experience the harsh reality of professional football.
Adding creativity in midfield
After casting my expert eye over Middlesbrough's opening fixtures I think I've spotted a small area for development.
Okay, it's not that small and I'm certainly no genius for spotting it.
Middlesbrough need creativity, and quickly. It's as simple as that.
The Teessiders were among the lowest scorers in the Championship last season and a key part of that was down to the lack of quality in the final third.
Patrick Roberts was the best option last term, but we only saw glimpses of it during his loan spell as he struggled with injury.
With him returning to Manchester City, Neil Warnock has a problem.
Warnock doesn't use traditional wingers and so any creativity looks like it will need to come from the wing-back areas or central midfield.
A wing-back won't be top of the list of targets, however a move for a creative player to break out midfield is a must.
Someone who can play as a number 8, a number 10 or as a number 11 from the flank will be a real asset to the Middlesbrough squad.
At present we're far too predictable and lack the sort of quality needed to carve open Championship defences.
We have the attackers to finish chances, we just need someone to put them on a plate.
If Warnock can find one or even two players to add that flair to the side then they'll look much, much better.
The final piece of the attacking jigsaw
Middlesbrough have already signed Chuba Akpom, but there's likely to be another striker on the way.
Neil Warnock famously likes working with four strikers, and with just three senior options on the books it doesn't take a genius to see what's coming.
Marcus Browne has sort of filled that void in the opening matches of the season, but probably lacks the cutting edge to be the sort of reliable option that Warnock wants.
He could, however, be a key asset as a creative and versatile option.
Middlesbrough are likely to pursue another target man to join the club, and that means that the Teessiders will have the luxury of picking two from four players in attack each week.
With the right service that should hopefully ease the club's goal scoring woes from last term and move them towards the right end of the league table by the time May rolls around.
Photo: Action Images
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