Ashley Fletcher's big chance and formation decisions : FIVE things Middlesbrough fans should look out for during Gateshead clash
Middlesbrough will play their second pre-season friendly of the summer on Wednesday night – but what should fans expect when the Teessiders travel to Gateshead?
Here are five things to keep an eye on at the International Stadium, as preparations continue for next month’s Championship opener.
Will Boro stick with a 4-3-3? – Against Grazer AK last week, Boro lined up in a 4-3-3 formation which switched to a 4-1-4-1 set-up when they lost the ball.
Last season Boro operated with a back three for large parts of the campaign and head coach Jonathan Woodgate may want to trial new systems during his side’s remaining pre-season fixtures.
How many internationals will return? – In Austria Boro left out Darren Randolph, George Saville, Paddy McNair and Martin Braithwaite following their recent international call-ups.
Braithwaite and McNair have been linked with moves away from the Riverside in recent months so it will be interesting to see if and where they play.
Will Ashley Fletcher get a chance through the middle? – Following Britt Assombalonga’s involvement at the Africa Cup of Nations, there’s a big opportunity for Fletcher to establish himself as Boro’s first-choice striker.
However, against Grazer AK, the 23-year-old frontman operated on the left after coming on at half-time - in a 4-3-3 system which required him to track back.
How many of the club’s youngsters will keep their place? – Woodgate handed opportunities to many of the club’s young prospects in Austria, making nine changes at half-time against Grazer AK.
A total of seven under-23 players started the game in Austria while six more were introduced later in the game – but how many will still be in the manager’s thinking come next month’s Championship opener at Luton?
Who will start at the back? – After Dael Fry missed the Austria trip to undergo rehab, Daniel Ayala was forced off against Grazer AK – though Woodgate said the injury wasn’t too serious.
Aden Flint came on at half-time against the Austrian side while Ryan Shotton can also operate at centre-half. Sam Stubbs and Nathan Wood could also get another chance at the International Stadium.