An area for Middlesbrough improvement next season to help Michael Carrick's promotion aim

Isaiah Jones of Middlesbrough celebrates scoring his team's first goal
Isaiah Jones of Middlesbrough celebrates scoring his team's first goal -Credit:Getty Images

Middlesbrough are nicely poised to put the emphasis firmly on to goalscoring next season. At the final reckoning, they haven’t done too badly this season, with 71 league goals in the onion bag – the sixth-best record in the Championship.

In the event, it’s not too behind the terrific tally of 84 goals which Boro scored in 2022-23 when Chuba Akpom was on fire. Emmanuel Latte Lath’s late surge obviously had a great deal to do with it. The Ivorian grabbed the nettle in the closing stages to finish on 18 goals, the second-best achievement by a Boro player in the past eight years.

We all expect Latte Lath to move further up the gears next season when it will be hoped that he might top 20 goals. He has got the bit between his teeth following a lay-off through injury. He must have been the most disappointed player in the squad when the season came to a close.

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Certainly, Michael Carrick will be supporting Latte Lath in his battle to lead Boro to a potential top-six finish. The manager has always set up his side to try to score goals. Even when things weren’t exactly going to plan early last season as all the new boys battled to settle in, Carrick continued to work on ways of scoring goals.

It was hard going at the onset because Boro were missing the 39 goals which Akpom and Cameron Archer had scored between them. No doubt Carrick will be hoping to bring in another goalscorer this season to add to the squad. This can only give the future outlook a massive boost.

It would have been good to think that Boro might have hung on to Archer this season in one form or another, though they could not compete when Sheffield United forked out Aston Villa’s £18m asking price. While Archer scored ten goals for Boro in half a season on Teesside, he has managed just four league goals during the Blades’ torrid Premier League campaign.

Even without a new striker this summer, Boro could still do reasonably well on the goalscoring front. Isaiah Jones has enjoyed a solid season and, with nine goals to his credit, that’s a pretty good achievement for the winger who has also spent some time at wing-back.

Jones was one of the team’s progressive successes this season. It appears that he has been encouraged by Carrick to put himself into potential scoring positions more often and has gained his just rewards. You have to go back to 2013-14 to find the last time a Boro winger reached double figures, when Albert Adomah netted 12 times in topping the team’s scoring chart.

Ironically another winger, Mustapha Carayol, finished second top scorer that season with eight goals. If Boro can hit the ground running in August and work up a head of steam, then Jones is likely to be one of the key players. No doubt he’ll weigh in with his share of goals and will probably set himself a double-figure target. It would be great to see.

Of course, Boro might have scored more goals this season but for bad luck. Marcus Forss had a difficult time as a result of injuries and could possibly have doubled his final tally of seven had he been available week in and week out. Forss scored ten times in 2022-23 to finish third top scorer behind Akpom and Archer. He would surely have pushed on further in the absence of these two players.

Another who would have reached double figures was Morgan Rogers, who had netted seven times before his big money move to Aston Villa. His replacement, Finn Azaz, scored four goals, which could be used to suggest that Carrick’s No.10 managed 11 goals during the season.

The manager would not be too happy with that tally, especially as he places a lot of emphasis on the impact that players can make in that position. Ironically it reminds me of the Jack Charlton era, when Alan Foggon was used as a No.10 to great effect.

Foggon, who was described as a deep-lying forward at the time, arrived in attacks as a second phase player. He scored 20 goals in all competitions as Boro ran away with the Second Division Championship. He scored 18 goals the following season after Boro had returned to the top flight. In effect opposition teams didn’t know how to deal with a player operating in the role.

Maybe Foggon was the league’s first No.10. If Charlton and Boro are credited with introducing the innovative role, Carrick has given us the modern version 50 years later. In this respect, he’ll be particularly keen to have the right man in place next season. If Azaz was brought in with the No.10 position in mind, he needs to step up a couple of gears.

Azaz has made a massive impact in some games, but has not been anywhere near as effective in others. He’s still a young player and is developing. He will get plenty of support from the Boro coaches and hopefully is poised to take off next season. If Latte Lath and Azaz are banging in the goals then Boro will have a big platform in place from which to push for a top-six place.

I say top six rather than automatic promotion because we know there will be hot competition from the three relegated clubs from the Premier League clubs. The benefit of having parachute payments has been made pretty obvious from the impact that Leicester, Leeds United and Southampton were able to make in the Championship this season.

Boro cannot compete financially with these moneybags clubs. We can be pretty certain that Luton, Burnley and Sheffield United will all have the resources to compete for top-six spots next term. On the other hand, a good manager and a strong dressing room can make a major difference. Just look what Ipswich Town have achieved this season.

I don’t envy Ipswich tackling the Premier League big boys after two rapid promotions but at the moment they are entering the top flight with a great mental attitude. The same mental attitude is something which Carrick needs to see on a regular basis from Boro next season.

In many respects, Boro looked a top-six side this season, particularly at the end of the campaign when losing just one of their last dozen games. However, the poor start, the injuries, and a general lack of consistency proved costly.

I met a Boro fan from a different part of the country the other day who told me that he had managed to attend just one home game last season. Unfortunately, it was against Plymouth at the end of February and was probably Boro’s worst display by some distance.

A few more goals would have made a lot of difference. Boro will be hoping for a change of luck next season, when an avoidance of injuries and a hatful of goals can contribute towards more consistency.