To think, not so long ago, the absence of a consistent goalscorer looked like the biggest obstacle to Middlesbrough’s hopes of a sustained promotion push.
Now, they’ve got the Championship’s most lethal marksman; Chuba Akpom netting 13 goals in 17 games during a career-best run of form. In Aston Villa loanee Cameron Archer, arguably the most exciting young striker in the whole EFL is now pitching up on the banks of the Trent too. And that’s without mentioning Marcus Forss; scorer of 31 goals in 50 career starts.
From Andraz Sporar, Aaron Connolly and Folarin Balogun to Akpom, Archer and Forss. The footballing equivalent of trading in your Fiat Punto for a Bentley. A Middlesbrough side with eight wins in 12 Championship games under talismanic head coach Michael Carrick, then, have the luxury of being able to spend the final two weeks of the January transfer window without needing to dip into the always-expensive striker market.
Middlesbrough continue to be linked with Ross Stewart; prolific down the road at Sunderland. But, unless they receive an offer they simply cannot refuse for Golden Boot pacesetter Akpom, Boro will focus instead on adding depth and competition in other areas.
Middlesbrough plan to keep Chuba Akpom
“(Interest in Akpom is) the nature of the beast,” Carrick, who replaced Wilder in October before turning a relegation-fearing side into promotion candidates, tells Sky Sports.
“We obviously don’t want to lose our best players at all. We feel like we’re going in the right direction.”
According to The Northern Echo, Middlesbrough’s recruitment team – led by head of football Kieran Scott – are prioritising a new midfielder, with Jonny Howson approaching 35 and breakout star Hayden Hackney still unproven over a long stretch of time. The future of West Brom loanee Alex Mowatt, meanwhile, remains uncertain; Redcar-born Hackney ousting him from the starting XI.
Massimo Luongo joined Ipswich Town at the start of January after his Boro contract was terminated.
Back to the North East for Dan Barlaser?
The Northern Echo believe that Rotherham United’s former Newcastle youngster Dan Barlaser is currently Boro’s number one target. The Gateshead native is out of contract next summer, and has seven assists for the 19th-place Millers.
Rotherham boss Matt Taylor admits that bids have arrived, with Middlesbrough expected to chance their arm again before the start of February 1. St Mirren’s Australia international Keanu Baccus, valued at £350,000, is an affordable alternative.
Championship rivals Norwich City also like Baccus. Boro, however, have a proud tradition of signing Australian players; From Mark Schwarzer and Mark Viduka to Riley McGree.
“His performance was unbelievable,” Socceroos legend Craig Moore said of Baccus after Australia’s 1-0 triumph over Denmark at the Qatar World Cup (Daily Record). “He’s got that bite, that tenacity and that desire that you need to make it to the top.
“He’s also very tidy on the ball.”
A Rotherham raid
FC Luzern skipper Ardon Jashari is another reportedly on Middlesbrough’s radar (Sky Sports). The Swiss Super League side, however, expect to retain the Celtic and Leeds-linked Jashari until the summer at least. Either way, Jashari will cost a lot more than Baccus or Barlaser.
“We’re looking to add and improve. You have to. If you’re not looking to improve then you’re going backwards,” Carrick explains. “Hopefully by the end of January and going into February we’ll be in a stronger position than we are now.”
The Echo believe that a wide player is also on Carrick’s shopping list. Middlesbrough could do a lot worse than to look at Barlaser’s New York Stadium team-mate Chiedozie Ogbene; another out of contract in the summer. The Republic of Ireland international is Rotherham’s top scorer with seven goals. Ogbene’s flexibility, energy and eye for goal, meanwhile, means he possesses a lot of the attributes Carrick looks out for.