The Middlesbrough players facing a huge season ahead as competition for places hots up

Middlesbrough's Riley McGree celebrates his goal (L) with Middlesbrough's Darragh Lenihan
-Credit: (Image: MI News/NurPhoto)

We all hope that next season will be massive for Middlesbrough as they battle to make a genuine bid for promotion.

It’s also a big one for several members of the squad who have not been featuring anywhere near as much as they would have liked. Injuries have kept several players on the sidelines. Their task of quickly breaking back into the team is made that little bit more difficult following the wonderful 12-match finale.

Skipper Darragh Lenihan and Tommy Smith made fewer than 20 appearances between them last term. There was a time, early doors, when they were very sorely missed but Boro have since pushed on. The re-emergence of Matt Clarke was the major bonus towards the end of the season. The centre-back needed to take lots of responsibility and show leadership qualities at the back and could not have done any better.

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We know that Lenihan is a top defender. Yet he has missed a lot of football and his number one target may be not simply to get back into action, but to dislodge Clarke. It won’t be an easy task if Clarke can take up the mantels where he left off against Watford in early May.

Smith’s faces a similar situation now that Luke Ayling has fully signed for the club following his successful loan spell from Leeds United last season. Sheffield United were one of the other teams interested and, bear in mind their parachute money, the moneybags Blades could have offered Ayling a bigger contract than Boro if they so wished. So to wrap that deal up so quickly is great business for Boro.

Another player who faces a personal challenge is Marcus Forss. The Finn started just 12 Championship games last term, in addition to coming off the bench on several occasions. Forss was highly favoured by Carrick when he first arrived. He forced Isaiah Jones out of the right-sided role, generally making a big impact and scoring goals.

The fact that Forss still netted seven times from limited appearances last season suggests that he has a great deal to offer in the new campaign. However, his first challenge will be to force himself back into the team.

Riley McGree was another attacking midfielder whose campaign was wrecked by injury. He managed just 14 Championships starts last season. The Aussie actually played as well as ever when he was in the side. He was one of the main contributors towards turning the season around after Boro made that dreadful start.

With Boro deciding against keeping Sam Greenwood and Lewis O’Brien, the door is open for McGree to hit the ground running in August and re-establish himself. Hopefully that’s exactly what he will do.

At the far end of the pitch, Josh Coburn would have been more disappointed than most to see his season wrecked by injury. The 22-year-old must have been delighted last summer when Carrick decided to keep him in the squad rather than send him out on another loan spell.

Coburn is still learning the game but he displayed an extremely positive attitude and did well in the games in which he played. The emergence of Emmanuel Latte Lath in the past three months, plus the likelihood that Carrick will bring in another striker during the summer, makes it that bit more difficult for Coburn to bounce straight back into the side. However, it’s a fair bet that Coburn will be desperately pulling at the leash from day one.