ANDY HALLIDAY arrived in the summer of two years ago with a growing reputation as a free-scoring forward – now he has hopes to become a key component of the Middlesbrough defence.
Halliday helped Boro return to winning ways over Huddersfield Town on Tuesday night and is keen to stay in the first team picture for tomorrow night's trip to Birmingham City.
The 21-year-old, signed by Gordon Strachan as an 18-year-old, has been waiting for a chance under Tony Mowbray and gave the manager plenty to be encouraged by against the Terriers.
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It might have been his goals – he had scored 15 in 30 league starts for Livingston as a teenager – which attracted Strachan, but his new boss has spotted a defensive side to his game few thought he had.
And Halliday has enjoyed it. After two substitute outings and a couple of run outs in the Capital One Cup, the Scottish forward-thinker started his first Championship game as a left-back this week.
With George Friend expected to be missing for another couple of games at least with hamstring trouble, Halliday is keen to show he can cope despite competition from Stuart Parnaby and Justin Hoyte.
“George's boots are huge ones to fill,” said Halliday. “He's arguably been our best player this season. He was a huge miss. I have filled in and done OK.
“We can all agree that the strength in depth is strong this season. Neither Parnaby or Hoyte have put a foot wrong either. Hopefully I am in the mix for Friday. I would like to be. I am happy to have played on Tuesday and I want to keep that going.
“It's an awesome, awesome feeling to have been in the team. I only found out about 90 minutes before kick-off because we couldn't do any shape the day before the game because of the weather.
“When you are at a club like Middlesbrough it is about biding your time. I have been happy with the way I have been dealing with things this season. There have been lows but Tuesday was certainly a high.”
Halliday's outing was only his sixth start since his £100,000 switch from Livingston. He has struggled to make an impact but when he has figured as a full-back he has looked more than capable.
Adapting to such a position has even surprised the player himself, but he has no problem with continuing there after finally adding to his five previous league starts for the club.
“At the start of the season the gaffer saw I had a few defensive instincts,” said Halliday. “He took me to one side and asked me if I had played there before, would I play there? Try it?
“I hadn't played it before, I couldn't see it myself. But if that's how I can get in to this team then I am happy with that.
“In modern day football, pushing on as a full-back is a big thing like the (Patrice) Evras, Ashley Coles, the Rafaels. That's what it is about now from that role and I like to attack.
“Thankfully I got a few forward runs against Huddersfield. I had some good moments. It's nice to get my first game out of the way there but I feel there is more to come from me.”
As Middlesbrough comfortably claimed three points against Huddersfield the other results were also going for them. Now a second victory in four days at St Andrew's tomorrow would lift Mowbray's men back up to second.
Halliday thinks it will be a while before any member of the squad starts to get carried away.
He said: “I have a debate with friends all of the time and in my opinion the Championship is the hardest league in the world. I genuinely believe that.
“Anyone can beat anyone. Look at last Saturday when we had gone seven matches undefeated and were up against a Bristol City team who had been seven without a win. We lost that 3-1! That sums up this league.
“You don't get results like that as regularly as they happen in the Championship anywhere else around. Bristol City were a hard team to beat. But I think we can take confidence from our performance and result against Huddersfield.”