Three ways Tony Pulis can get Middlesbrough firing ahead of Preston cup clash
There has been much to admire about Middlesbrough's high-flying start to the season '“ not least their ultra-mean defensive record.
In England’s top four divisions, only Liverpool have conceded fewer league goals than the three Boro have given up – but in three less games.
But the flip side is that Tony Pulis’s men have been misfiring up front for a team challenging at the top of the Championship, with their 11 goals the joint lowest tally of any team in the table’s upper half.
So how can the famously pragmatic Pulis oversee an upturn in Boro’s output up top?
Here are three ways the manager could make his men more prolific.
Play two up front
Most Championship managers would love to have the likes of Britt Assombalonga and Martin Braithwaite, but Pulis also has loanee and local boy Jordan Hugill, Rudy Gestede and Ashley Fletcher - who cost a hefty Â£6.5 million – at his disposal.
So why not play two of them at a time?
Pulis likes to go with a physical, lone target man, but Gestede is an example of someone who flourishes with a partner, as he showed in scoring 20 goals for Blackburn when alongside Jordan Rhodes in 2014-15.
Replace Patrick Bamford
Middlesbrough sold star striker Bamford to Leeds United for Â£7 million in the summer without really replacing him. Yes, Pulis has a lot of strikers at his disposal but none with the unpredictable qualities as the former Championship Player of the Year.
Hugill is a physical presence but not a proven goalscorer, Gestede is very much an old-fashioned #9 – and has his fair share of injuries - and Fletcher was allowed to go on loan to Sunderland last year.
Braithwaite has come back from his loan spell with Bordeaux to help boost Pulis’s options but there is too much pressure on him and Assombalonga.
Consider a talented freebie
England U20 international Kaylen Hinds moved from Arsenal to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg for Â£2m last summer but is now a free agent after his struggle to settle in Germany saw him fail to report for pre-season and get released.
But we understand the 20-year-old – who operates most effectively as a #10 – has been offered trials at Crystal Palace, QPR and Charlton.
Quick, clever and creative, is Hinds potentially the spark Boro have been lacking?
Watch the video above to see what the ex-Arsenal prospect could bring to the club.