THERE are lots of different ways to assemble a football team, but as the age-old truism goes, you’re normally only ever as good as your strikers. For all that the other elements of the game are important, ultimately, you have to put the ball in the back of the net.

So, when Michael Carrick assessed the strengths and weaknesses of his Middlesbrough squad ahead of the reopening of the transfer window, a glaring gap at the top end of the pitch stood out. Matt Crooks was doing a job as a makeshift centre-forward, offering an aerial threat and positioning himself as someone to play off. Marcus Forss provided industry, Duncan Watmore could be relied on to deliver relentless effort. In Matthew Hoppe, there was the possibility of untapped potential.

What Boro did not have, though, with Rodrigo Muniz effectively out of the equation, was a natural number nine. They did not have a striker with a goalscorer’s instinct, or with the pace and mobility to dart behind an opposition backline.

It was a gap in the squad that had the potential to derail Boro’s promotion push, but with Cameron Archer now fully settled following his loan move from Aston Villa, it is a vacancy that has been filled. Boro have their lead centre-forward; Archer has a golden opportunity to take his career to the next level.

“At the start, when I first signed, the gaffer told me then that I was a different type of player that he needed,” said Archer, who was courted by half the clubs in the Championship before eventually deciding to join Boro. “The missing piece of the puzzle, is what he said.

“He was clear when I first arrived what he wanted me to do, and hopefully I can do that. I like to run in behind, and I think that’s really important. I had that at Preston, and it’s a big part of what I’ll always look to do.

“It’s a fluid system, but it’s been easy to adapt to it because the gaffer tells us to play with freedom. His message for us players in that final third is to play with freedom, and that was a big reason why I wanted to come here as well, because I wanted to be myself. Ultimately, as a player, you want that freedom to express yourself and show what you’re capable of.”

There were two moments in the first half of Saturday’s win over Watford that epitomised what Archer will bring to this Boro team.

The first was effectively something out of nothing, with Archer picking up the ball on the edge of the area with seemingly nothing on before bursting between two Watford defenders in order to fire in a low shot that Daniel Bachmann pushed away down to his right.

The second led to Boro’s opening goal, with Archer isolating himself one-on-one with Hassane Kamara in order to produce a lightning burst of pace that saw him surge away from the Watford defender and break into the box. A heavy touch meant Bachmann was able to save at his feet, but the chaos that had been created led to Chuba Akpom forcing the ball home on the rebound at the second attempt.

“There are a lot of good players here, and we try to play to each other’s strengths,” continued Archer. “There were a couple of times that they got me through on goal, and that’s positive because it’s important we all link up.

The Northern Echo: Cameron Archer

“The training standards here are so high, and the lads all work so hard, and it then shows out on that pitch. It was pleasing to see the benefits, and it was really enjoyable to play with all of them. They know my game, and I know there’s now, so we just need to keep going.”

If he maintains the levels he displayed at the weekend, it will not be long before Archer starts finding the back of the net, but even if he is not scoring himself, the 21-year-old’s willingness to pull defenders out of position should benefit those around him.

Akpom has been in superb form playing off Forss and Crooks, but you imagine Boro’s repositioned ‘number ten’ will be licking his lips at the prospect of playing off the shoulder of Archer, with his new strike partner’s pace and mobility offering the potential for openings he can exploit.

Akpom’s 14th league strike of a remarkable goalscoring season paved the way for the weekend win over Watford, with Forss adding a second goal on the stroke of half-time as he broke infield onto Jonny Howson’s through ball and slotted a precise finish into the bottom corner.

The win was the perfect response to the previous weekend’s Wear-Tees derby defeat, and means all four of the losses suffered under Carrick have now been followed by a victory. Iain Dowie coined the phrase ‘bouncebackability’ when he led a Crystal Palace side from the Championship relegation zone to promotion – Carrick’s Boro team appear to have similar traits.

“The players have definitely shown me that they’ve got a terrific attitude,” said the Boro head coach. “They’ve got a willingness to learn and a willingness to win, and they stick together.

“You’re not always going to get your own way, so there’s definitely that bit of grit and determination, and a confidence within the group. Sometimes it’ll work, sometimes we’ll hit a bump, like we did last week, but if we keep trying to do the right things and pushing each other, then hopefully it’ll work out.

“When you’re winning, everyone’s happy and patting each other on the back, but you do see true characters when you suffer a defeat or you have a bad run. There’s only been good signs from any little setback we’ve had.”