Joe Nicholson's Middlesbrough verdict: Positives to take from Salford but Boro still look vulnerable at the back
Come the end of the season, when the prizes are dished out and assessments are made, pre-season friendlies count for nothing.
Middlesbrough needed a reaction at Salford on Tuesday night, though, following a heavy 5-1 defeat against German side FC Heidenheim on Saturday – a result which raised a few concerns on Teesside.
Head coach Jonathan Woodgate wasn’t happy with the performance at the Voith Arena but received the response he wanted in Manchester as Boro ran out 3-1 winners.
The Teessiders are just over a week away from their opening Championship fixture away at Luton on August 2, and it was important to re-gain some confidence ahead of the trip to Kenilworth Road.
Even so, while it was too early to panic after the defeat in Germany, it’s important not to get carried away following this result.
There were plenty of positives for Woodgate, though, most notably the performance of star striker Britt Assombalonga who netted his second hat-trick in a Boro shirt – the other came in a friendly at Hartlepool last summer.
After receiving an extended break following his involvement at the Africa Cup of Nations, there were no signs of a post-tournament hangover. The 26-year-old led the line admirably and was razor sharp in the final third.
Even so, Boro can’t just rely on Assombaonga to bag the goals this season and others will have to chip in from midfield and from the flanks.
At least the Teessiders were creating chances for their lead frontman, though, with Marvin Johnson’s deliveries often accurate while Hayden Coulson also opened up the visitors with his forays forward from left-back.
But while Boro looked good going forward at the Peninsula Stadium, they still looked vulnerable at the back. Salford broke the deadlock from a corner in the 20th minute and in truth could have scored more.
Goalkeeper Aynsley Pears made a couple of fine stops while Boro’s centre-backs, Daniel Ayala and Ryan Shotton, once again looked hesitant when playing out from the back.
Still, nothing is won or lost in pre-season and Woodgate has one more game to look at his side before the season kicks-off.