A COUPLE of milestone celebrations are fast approaching for Josh Coburn.

Early next month, the Middlesbrough striker turns 21. And soon after the youngster looks likely to bring up 50 appearances for Boro.

That's quite the achievement considering he spent a full season out on loan at Bristol Rovers and taking into account Boro have spent the vast majority of the last few seasons - since Coburn's first team breakthrough - challenging or at least targeting promotion to the Premier League.

It's not often Championship promotion hopefuls have young homegrown strikers leading the line. And yet that's what's happening at the Riverside this season.

Coburn, the latest in a long-line of academy success stories on Teesside with 42 first team appearances to his name already, recently thanked head coach Michael Carrick for keeping faith in him despite the fact he wasn't scoring prolifically. But why would Carrick make a change when his side are in such fine form? Since Coburn's first league start of the season at Sheffield Wednesday, Boro have lost just one game.

Carrick is understandably reluctant to pile too much pressure on the shoulders of his young striker. There will be no repeat of the claim from Joey Barton just under a year ago when Coburn's loan boss tipped the striker to go on and play for England.

But Coburn doesn't need such bold claims to build belief. His continued Boro selection gives the striker all the confidence he needs.

And Carrick isn't the only Championship manager delighted to see Coburn faring so well this season - even if the rival boss has repeatedly endured disappointment at the hands of the striker.

It's no secret that Coburn had something of an uncertain summer and the story of the Plymouth transfer that didn't happen has already been told on a number of occasions. Time won't necessarily ease the frustration of what could have been for Steven Schumacher - but the Plymouth boss isn't one bit surprised to see Coburn impressing for Boro.

"I keep saying it, he's a good player," said Schumacher, who tried to sign the striker last summer as well and has seen Coburn score against his side this season and last.

"I wanted him last year, it didn't quite happen. I tried to get him this year because you can see what he brings."

Schumacher had salt rubbed into his wound when Coburn scored twice against his Plymouth side earlier this month.

"He was a real handful for us," said the Plymouth boss, looking back on that game.

"He got himself two goals, which I was gutted about, but I was pleased for him personally because he's a great lad and he'll have a good career.

"Every time he's started for Middlesbrough (this season), I think they've only lost once. I'm pleased for him. I was gutted he scored against us, I did tell him don't be scoring against us when you play, but he didn't listen."


Carrick won't expect too much too soon from Coburn, who is likely to have extra company up-front in January, when Boro will target another striker. But he's in the term on merit and has established himself as a key man for Carrick's in-form promotion hopefuls.

Asked whether Coburn - so early in his career - can be a season-long line-leading centre-forward for a promotion chasing Championship side, Schumacher said: "I'm sure Michael thinks he's capable of doing that. That's why he kept him in in the end.

"I know Middlesbrough were trying to get a No.9 (in the summer). I don't fully understand what went on. We were having conversations, me and Michael, and he said he (Coburn) can come as soon as we (Boro) bring someone in.

"In the end, either he wasn't able to bring someone in or the time it took, they might have seen that Josh could actually help their team.

"He's a really good player. Being a long season, it's his first full season in the Championship because obviously he played in League One last season, it's going to be a big ask for him personally but his performances have been good. I'm really pleased for him."