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Middlesbrough column: What’s gone wrong with Chuba Akpom?
Friday, 26th Feb 2021 12:43 by Matthew Hunter

After a good week following two wins on the bounce versus Huddersfield and Reading, the latter more impressive – confidence should have been high going into Bristol City. After a very poor first half losing 3-0, the game was done and finished 3-1. Let’s reflect on Boro’s striker’s problems and in particular Chuba Akpom.

Signed from PAOK for a adequate fee of £2.75m in the summer, it seemed a good bit of business by the Boro. Once tipped for great things by Arsenal and relied on often by FIFA and Football Manager fantatics, his name was one definitely heard of. He’s strong and with a bit of pace, both attributes you’d require from a striker.

Though being contracted to Arsenal, a club he’d signed for at 6 years old, he spent most of his professional career out on loan. His most notable being Hull City but included Brighton, Notts Forest and Belgian side Sint-Truiden to name a few.

He then parted ways with Arsenal and got a move to Greek club PAOK. Pastures seemed greener with better goal returns and he started to show glimpses of the potential Arsenal shown him. He scored in a champions league qualifier against Dutch giants Ajax as well as winning PAOK a cup final in 2019 so it seemed promising when Boro announced his signing.

He started off his Boro career strong with an opener against QPR and the Boro fans finally thought we had a decent striker to rely on. It was a strong header from a superb corner from McNair and made me think, Britt and Fletcher now have competition on their hands. Other goals included Barnsley, Luton and Wycombe – all of which shown he’s a poacher following up saves or getting close to the byline. Then again, some of the best strikers in history were poachers too. Think Gary Lineker and Van Nistelrooy.

At Middlesbrough though, we’re not playing like Barcelona or Manchester United and so chances are at much more of a premium. We need our strikers to offer more than scrappy rebounds. We have seen him show signs of his strength and pace but he’s slowly becoming another striker not living up to our expectations. In his defence, we cannot be too harsh though since a striker relies on service, something the Boro have struggled with lately.

Also Middlesbrough still seem to be struggling to name a regular side, a side that’s consistent with subs serving to only boost our squad when legs are tired. Admittedly, it’s a lot better under Warnock but with injuries too, it’s still seems Warnock is yet to find his week-in, week-out squad – especially when it comes to forwards.

Who do we have and what’s the competition? In reality for the starting squad when fully fit, we have the selection choice of Assombalonga, Akpom, Fletcher and Watmore. Three of which are out and out strikers while Watmore can offer his services out on the wide. On that basis and under our usual formations of 5-4-1 or 4-2-3-1, the common denominator seems to be one up top; that Britt, Fletch and Chuba all are to battle it out for the one position.

It’s difficult since they all possess similar possessions. They are all fairly strong, all fairly quick and all possess an aerial threat so when choosing one it must be so difficult for a manager. Who’s playing well in training? Who’s scoring the most? Who’s earning the most? These are all factors that need to be pondered. With Britt and Fletcher on big wage packets too, do we need to start looking at using Akpom more?

Akpom’s four goals in 21 games in all appearances isn’t that bad comparatively, especially since a lot of his appearances have actually been from the bench. Though, his goals have mostly come from when he has started and maybe that’s something we need to look at. When he comes on as a sub, does he offer a lot?

When he played last night against Bristol, he seemed merely a presence in the box but didn’t seem a threat. He can hold up the play and lay it off but at 3-0 down, you want your strikers to scare the opposition, to fear that they could lose their comfortable lead. Sadly, that wasn’t the case. I guess at 3-0 down, it must be difficult to motivate yourself as a striker when chances can be so few.

On the contrary though, their have been rare instances where a decent chance has came for the Strikers and they’ve simply fluffed them. The pundits in the gantry see more of the ball then the back of the Boro net sometimes. And those chances are killing us especially when we are chasing the game. Britt’s also prone to missing a good chance for a supposed championship proven striker though so we can’t point all the blame to Chuba.

It’s clear to most that our strikers work better as a two and Chuba included so maybe that’s why we’re not seeing much of him. Fletcher had not been long back from injury to see those partnerships linking up again and for Fletcher to go off again last night, I’m worried that Middlesbrough will have enough of an attacking threat to cause problems to the opposition.

Chuba seems to be a target man, someone that can hold the ball up and bring others into play. But we had two of them before he even arrived. The reason behind Watmore’s success in my opinion is that he offers us something different and can play wide – he gets stuck into the bustling challenges and works hard. Chuba and co seem to wait for their chance and when it arrives, they don’t always take it.

Maybe Chuba is a player for the future especially with Britt and Fletcher yet to commit past the summer but for now he doesn’t offer enough for me. Maybe he’s yet another striker that’s had the Middlesbrough curse – a promising player with decent statistics that’s failed to hit the ground running. Think of Jordan Rhodes, think of Afonso Alves – even Britt still with us. Hefty price tags and rightly so, they’d proven their trade elsewhere. However, they’ve all struggled to find the net consistently at the Boro.

Middlesbrough are crying for the likes of a Patrick Bamford-esque player again and when that happens maybe we can consider giving the playoffs a real good crack but for now, I don’t see us being genuine contenders.

With Britt and Fletcher’s future uncertain I think we will see more of Akpom and with more game time, surely more goals will follow. Warnock brought out the magic and quality in some of our players last summer after a shaky start to their Boro careers - here’s hoping he can do this too with Akpom and we give it a good go next season. The potential is there, it just needs coaxing out of him. Onwards and upwards.

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