FIVE Middlesbrough youngsters to watch out for during pre-season
In his first press conference as Middlesbrough head coach, Jonathan Woodgate opened the door for the club’s young prospects – but which players should Boro fans be looking out for?
Ahead of the Teessiders’ pre-season trip to Austria, a total of nine under-23s players have trained with the senior side this week.
Here are five players to keep an eye on in the next month, as Woodgate’s side gear up for the new Championship campaign.
Aynsley Pears – Following the departures of Dimi Konstantopulos and Andy Lonergan, Darren Randoloph is Boro’s only senior goalkeeper.
That could open the door for one of the club’s young shot-stoppers, with 21-year-old Pears in a strong position after winning the Players' Player of the Year award during a loan spell at Gateshead last season.
Nathan Wood – Aged just 16 years and 75 days, Wood became the club’s youngest ever player when he made his first-team debut in a Carabao Cup win over Notts County last season.
The central defender, who signed his first professional contract this week, went on to make two more senior appearances, against Rochdale and Preston, and played regularly for Boro’s under-23 side last season.
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Djed Spence – With Boro seemingly short in the full-back positions, there could be a real opportunity for the 18-year-old right-back to stake a claim this summer.
Spence also played twice for the senior side last term, coming off the bench against Rochdale and Notts County.
Connor Malley – Boro are well stocked in the middle of the park but will be keen to promote the highly-rated 19-year-old who signed a three-year deal in May.
Malley acted as a lynchpin in Boro’s under-23 side last season, making 20 league appearances, and was also an unused substitute on two occasions for the senior side.
Stephen Walker – The 18-year-old striker is rated so highly that Boro offered him a new four-and-a-half year deal in January, following a loan spell at MK Dons.
Walker made just seven League Two appearance for The Dons but has consistently represented England’s youth teams, scoring a hat-trick against Macedonia for the under-19 side last October.