WHEN Neil Warnock sat down with Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson last Thursday, he delivered an assessment of the squad he inherited from Jonathan Woodgate, pointing out the gaps he is keen to plug this summer.

How does the current Boro squad shape up? And what areas will Warnock be particularly keen to strengthen before the new Championship season begins on September 12?


Numerically, Middlesbrough are well stocked in the goalkeeping department. Aynsley Pears and Dejan Stojanovic spent the final weeks of the season battling it out for a starting spot, with Tomas Mejias also available in reserve. Further down the line, 19-year-old Sol Brynn is regarded as an extremely exciting prospect.

However, the fact that Warnock was chopping and changing between Pears and Stojanovic suggests he doesn’t really fancy either particularly strongly. Both have made mistakes this term, and historically, Warnock has put a lot of stock in having a reliable number one.

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Ideally, the Boro boss would probably like to bring in an experienced goalkeeper on a one or two-year deal to provide some increased solidity at the back. However, to facilitate that, one or probably two of the current keepers would have to leave, and that might be easier said than done in the current climate.


From the minute he walked through the door, Warnock quickly determined that defence was the weakest part of the Boro squad. It has got even weaker since the end of lockdown, with Daniel Ayala and Ryan Shotton having departed.

George Friend and Marvin Johnson could follow the duo through the exit door, although it is understood Warnock is ready to offer the pair a new deal, albeit in the case of Friend in particular on significantly reduced terms. Whether those deals are accepted should become clear in the next few days.

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Beyond that, Warnock will almost certainly want two new centre-halves, and they will have to fit the ‘natural defender’ mould he described so frequently in the latter stages of the season.

Unsurprisingly, Cardiff’s Sol Bamba has been touted as a possible option, while Boro’s recruitment team have also made an offer for Northampton Town skipper Charlie Goode. The towering 24-year-old ticks most of Warnock’s boxes, although he is commanding plenty of attention from elsewhere and Boro’s initial bid of £500,000 might well be insufficient to secure an agreement.

A return for Ben Gibson is possible, although Boro are not in a position where they can consider a permanent deal for their academy product. A season-long loan from Burnley could be an option, although even that would rely on the Clarets paying a large proportion of Gibson’s wages, which are more than £40,000-a-week.

The right-back position looks okay provided Djed Spence remains – Tottenham have been touted as a potential destination for the youngster, but are yet to make a formal approach – while what happens at left-back will largely depend on Johnson. On the evidence of the last month, Warnock clearly has reservations about Hayden Coulson’s suitability for the role.


Boro have lost Adam Clayton, who confirmed his departure in the immediate aftermath of the final game of the season, as well as their loanees, Patrick Roberts and Ravel Morrison. They have, however, retained Jonny Howson, who triggered a contract extension in the final weeks of the campaign.

Boro’s current midfield mix is a blend of steady central midfielders – Howson, George Saville, Paddy McNair, Lewis Wing – supplemented by a smattering of youthful energy in the shape of Marcus Tavernier.

With Roberts having left, there is an absence of natural width as well a lack of pace – Tavernier aside – and those are deficiencies Warnock will almost certainly look to address this summer.

Premier League loans will be considered, although with the transfer window running into October, the loan market might not really crank into life until well into next season. Given the need for a fairly major overhaul this summer, Warnock might not want to wait that long.

It will be interesting to see what the Boro boss does with Marcus Browne, with the winger having impressed while on loan at Oxford United in the second half of the season.

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Having lost the League One play-off final to Wycombe, Oxford missed out on a place in the Championship, but they remain keen to get Browne back to the Kassam Stadium next season. Warnock will almost certainly want to cast his own eye over the 22-year-old in pre-season.


Boro’s biggest attacking question this summer relates to the future of Britt Assombalonga. Ideally, Warnock would like to cash in on the striker and use the funds secured to strengthen elsewhere, but there is clearly no chance of recouping the club-record £15m fee that was spent on the 27-year-old. Would Steve Gibson be willing to accept a vastly-reduced price – say £4-5m – if it meant being able to get Assombalonga’s wages off the books?

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Ashley Fletcher will almost certainly be remaining, but even if Assombalonga stays too, Warnock will want at least one reinforcement in attack with Rudy Gestede having departed and Lukas Nmecha having returned to Manchester City at the end of his loan deal.

As is the case with his defence, Warnock will almost certainly head down the ‘tried-and-tested’ route when recruiting a new forward, although to a large extent, his hand will be forced by Boro’s need to remain within the parameters set out by FFP.