HAVING opted to return to English football earlier this month after a lengthy overseas absence, Chuba Akpom might well feel he has to start making up for lost time. After all, prior to Saturday, his most recent goal in England had come against a team that does not even exist anymore.

It was January 2016 when Akpom was scoring for Hull City in an FA Cup win over now-defunct Bury, and while his time on the continent with first St Truiden and then PAOK Salonika was hardly unsuccessful, he readily admits he has moved to Middlesbrough to complete some unfinished business.

His debut performance at QPR was a decent start to that process, with his neat glanced header from Paddy McNair’s corner opening his account for his new employers at the first time of asking and helping secure the 1-1 draw that maintained Boro’s solid start to the season.

Akpom will hope there is plenty more to come, but a 100 per cent goalscoring record is not a bad way to start.

“What’s the perfect start for a striker? It’s getting a goal on your debut, and he’s done exactly that,” said Kevin Blackwell, who will hand the reins back to Neil Warnock this week, with the Boro boss having completed his enforced spell of Covid isolation. “It’s important as a striker you’re seen to do your job, and that is scoring goals. That has taken a lot of weight off his shoulders.”

Last season, a lack of goals was Middlesbrough’s biggest failing. The Teessiders managed just 48 goals in 46 matches, a return that was always going to leave them scrapping for survival in the bottom half of the division.

An improvement is imperative this term, and while Warnock remains keen to add another centre-forward before the transfer window closes in the middle of next month, Akpom’s arrival has provided some much-needed variety in the final third.

The 24-year-old is more mobile than Britt Assombalonga, who partnered him at the weekend, and more direct than Ashley Fletcher, who will return to full training this week. He boasts extensive experience of the Championship, having helped Hull and Brighton win promotion during loan spells from Arsenal, and has already hit the ground running, having been match sharp thanks to his exploits in Greece.

“Every striker’s dream is to come in straightaway and make a bang, and Chuba did that,” said Assombalonga. “He’s used to playing in England, and it’s been easy for him. I’m glad that he’s fitted in straight away.”

As a striker, it must help when you can feed on the kind of deliveries routinely produced by McNair, and having delivered the cross that resulted in Marcus Browne’s equaliser against Bournemouth, the Northern Irishman was at it again as he swung over a perfectly-weighted corner for Akpom to glance home.

McNair has been Boro’s stand-out performer in their opening three league games, even though he finds himself stationed as one of the three centre-halves. He is more than capable of slotting in there, but at some stage this season, Boro would surely benefit from pushing him further up the field.

Dael Fry’s return might help facilitate that, with the Teessider finally back up to full speed after missing a large chunk of pre-season because of a positive Covid test. Fry replaced the injured Grant Hall at the weekend and produced a sensational last-ditch tackle to prevent Ilias Chair tapping home what would have been a QPR winner after Tom Carroll’s shot hit the post.

QPR had already scored their equaliser by then, with Bright Osayi-Samuel tapping home after Marcus Bettinelli parried Luke Amos’ shot.