MIDDLESBROUGH continued their pre-season preparations with a 1-0 defeat to Spanish side Real Betis at Chesterfield’s SMH Group Stadium on Saturday.

Former Newcastle United forward Ayoze Perez scored the only goal of the game in the second half – what were the main talking points to emerge from the match?


With the final outcome of Saturday’s game largely an irrelevance, the key moment from a Middlesbrough perspective came in the 29th minute when Tommy Smith suffered an injury that could have major repercussions both in terms of the club’s transfer plans for the remainder of the window and their defensive prospects for next season.

The Northern Echo: Tommy Smith is stretchered off the field at ChesterfieldTommy Smith is stretchered off the field at Chesterfield (Image: The Northern Echo)

Smith was caught on the wrong side of an opponent and injured himself as he lunged backwards in an attempt to prevent a forward break. It was immediately clear he had suffered a serious problem, with Boro’s players signalling for the medical staff to come onto the field, and after three or four minutes of treatment, he was carried off the pitch strapped to a stretcher.

He has damaged his ankle, and while the full extent of the problem is still being assessed, the fear is that he has sustained ligament damage, which would almost certainly result in a lengthy absence.

Boro have already suffered one blow at left-back, with transfer target Ryan Giles on the brink of a switch to Luton Town, and could now find themselves in the market for a new right-back as well if Smith’s injury is as serious as feared. Anfernee Dijksteel and Isaiah Jones could both slot in at right-back, but Michael Carrick does not seem especially enthused by the prospect of either having a lengthy run in the full-back position.


There was still no sign of Paddy McNair, Jonny Howson or Chuba Akpom against Real Betis, increasing fears that the trio will also be unavailable for the opening game of the Championship season against Millwall in less than a fortnight’s time.

McNair is suffering from a sore Achilles, while Howson’s problem was described by Carrick as a “knock” when he spoke to the press in midweek. Akpom is nursing a knee injury that he has been carrying since the end of last season and is yet to play a single minute of pre-season action.

The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough forward Chuba AkpomMiddlesbrough forward Chuba Akpom (Image: Tom Banks)

Boro have two remaining friendlies – away at Bradford on Wednesday and at home to Auxerre on Saturday – and the missing trio will surely have to feature in at least one of those games to have any chance of being involved against Millwall.

McNair might not get in the starting line-up anyway, with Dael Fry having played alongside Darragh Lenihan at the weekend, but Howson and Akpom remain crucial members of Carrick’s first-choice XI and would leave big gaps to fill if they were unavailable for the opening weekend.


Dan Barlaser did not get too many chances to impress last season following his January switch from Rotherham. With Howson and Hayden Hackney forming Carrick’s first-choice central-midfield pairing, and Alex Mowatt slotting in on occasion in the final couple of months of the campaign, Barlaser was restricted to just three Championship starts.

His involvement level looks set to increase this season, and on the evidence of Saturday’s first-half display in particular, the 26-year-old looks like being a valuable creative asset.

The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough midfielder Dan BarlaserMiddlesbrough midfielder Dan Barlaser (Image: Andrew Varley)

Barlaser was the best player on the pitch for the opening half-an-hour, dictating play from the heart of midfield and threading a succession of inviting through balls into the final third for Morgan Rogers, Matt Crooks and Riley McGree to chase.

The North-Easterner is a player whose first choice when in possession is to look to try to pass the ball forward, and he should help add a welcome layer of creativity to Boro’s central-midfield mix.


Rogers has led the line in Boro’s last two friendlies, but the summer signing from Manchester City admits he is “learning on the job” as he has spent most of his career so far playing as either a midfielder or wide-attacker.

“There’s still areas I know I need to improve,” said Rogers, with commendable honesty. “I need to be sharper in front of goal if I want to stay in this team and play in this team. We ultimately need to score goals. In the last couple of games, I’ve had chances that I know I should have scored – and I will come the start of the actual season.”

The Northern Echo: Morgan Rogers breaks clear against Chesterfield - but his shot was savedMorgan Rogers breaks clear against Chesterfield - but his shot was saved (Image: The Northern Echo)

As things stand, Rogers will probably have to start up front in the opening game, unless Carrick opts to start with Matt Crooks as his number nine. Alex Gilbert played the final nine minutes of Saturday’s game, but looks raw following his summer move from Brentford B.

Boro might well be waiting for the Premier League attacking loan options to become clear, and would be understandably keen on a return for Cameron Archer if Aston Villa were to decide the youngster needed another loan move. For now, though, the cupboard looks worryingly bare.


The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough goalkeeper Seny DiengMiddlesbrough goalkeeper Seny Dieng (Image: MFC)

As well as being a fine shot-stopper, Zack Steffen fitted Carrick’s goalscoring requirements perfectly last season as he was adept with his feet and more than comfortable playing the ball around at the back.

If Saturday’s game is anything to go by, then Seny Dieng, who joined Boro from QPR earlier this month, will pick up where Steffen left off.

Boro’s new number-one goalkeeper was constantly looking to keep the ball moving in his own 18-yard box, and was more than happy to receive possession, even if opposition attackers were closing in on him.

Boro’s desire to play the ball out from the back almost got them into trouble in the first half against Betis, but it is a policy that is clearly integral to Carrick’s preferred style and will remain in place this season.