Middlesbrough FC transfer Q&A: Ex-Celtic man, Leeds United speculation and Ben Gibson discussed

There’s just over a week to go until the end of the January transfer window and Middlesbrough are still hopeful of getting deals over the line before next Friday’s 11pm deadline.

Thursday, 23rd January 2020, 5:25 pm
Middlesbrough boss Jonathan Woodgate hopes the club can make a couple more signings in January.
Middlesbrough boss Jonathan Woodgate hopes the club can make a couple more signings in January.

Boro have already brought in three players this month, with Manchester City duo Lukas Nmecha and Patrick Roberts arriving on loan and goalkeeper Dejan Stojanovic signing on a permanent deal.

But what could happen next for the Teessiders?

In this week’s transfer Q&A, our Boro writer Joe Nicholson answers questions on the club’s transfer window so far and what could take place over the next nine days.

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What have you made of Boro’s transfer business so far?

Baring in mind January can be a tricky time to complete signings compared to the summer, Boro have conducted some good business so far.

Getting Roberts and Nmecha through the door within the first few days gave the side a boost ahead of a quick run of games in January.

The two Manchester City loanees will provide competition for places in the final third and have already shown flashes of what they’re capable of.

Roberts in particular looks like an excellent signing, and the former Celtic winger has the ability to run with the ball at pace, something Boro have lacked over the last 18 months.

Losing first-choice goalkeeper Darren Randolph was obviously a blow, yet it was clear the player wanted another chance to play in the Premier League.

Boro handled the situation well and acted quickly to find a replacement in Dejan Stojanovic, who arrives with first-team experience from Switzerland even if he’s not well known.

It’s clear there are still areas which urgently need addressing, most notably at the back following injuries to George Friend, Ryan Shotton, Dael Fry, Daniel Ayala and Anfernee Dijksteel.

The club are still playing catch up after failing to bulk up the squad in the summer, and Woodgate will want to sign at least one more centre-back before the end of the month.

Is there a chance Ben Gibson will return to Boro this month?

Woodgate certainly didn’t rule a deal out following Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham.

Of course the Boro boss would welcome Gibson back to the Riverside, the 27-year-old is a local lad, has plenty of Championship experience and is a natural leader at the back.

Due to his lack of first-team football at Burnley, you’d think Gibson is keen to leave Turf Moor, yet the Clarets will ultimately have the final say.

Burnley boss Sean Dyche has a strict policy to have options in every position and won’t want to leave his side short for the remainder of the campaign.

Ben Mee and James Tarkowski have been the Clarets’ first-choice duo at the back for the last two seasons, yet Dyche won’t want to take any chances.

A move for Gibson could therefore depend on Burnley finding a replacement for the centre-back, while Woodgate has all but ruled out the chances of a swap deal involving Dael Fry.

The other potential hurdle is Gibson’s wages given that he is playing for a Premier League club.

What are the chances of Boro losing Britt Assombalonga or one of their other first-team players this month?

Reports linking Assombalonga with Leeds United earlier this week came as a shock, especially given the player is still recovering from an ankle injury.

The Whites are desperately looking for a striker after Eddie Nketiah was recalled by parent club Arsenal and have clearly looked at several options in January.

As one of the leading strikers in the Championship, it’s possible that Assombalonga’s name has been mentioned, yet the Boro man won’t be their first-choice target.

Aston Villa were also linked with the striker but have since completed the signing of Mbwana Samatta from Belgian club Genk and also appear to have other targets.

In terms of other potential departures at Boro, nothing appears imminent this month, while Woodgate has said the club aren’t under pressure to sell.

Like Randolph, though, there could be a temptation to cash in if a Premier League offer is made and the player wants to leave.

What should Boro be targeting for the rest of the campaign?

Thankfully for Woodgate, Boro’s excellent run over the festive period eased fears of a relegation dogfight.

Obviously the Teessiders can’t get complacent with just 35 points on the board, yet there is now an 11 point gap between Boro and the bottom three.

Woodgate’s young side should be looking up the table for the remainder of the campaign, especially as new players arrive and the squad continues to gel.

Despite the unpredictability of the Championship, the play-offs remains a long shot – Boro are 10 points behind sixth-place side Preston with 17 games to go.

A top half finish is a more realistic target and would show progress after difficult start to the campaign.

Woodgate will also want to lay the foundations for next season with several players still competing in their first full Championship season.

Over the last month, we have seen academy graduates Hayden Coulson, Djed Spence, Aynsley Pears and Marcus Tavernier establish themselves as first-team regulars.

The aforementioned players, along with the likes of Ashley Fletcher, Lewis Wing and Dael Fry, still have plenty of time to develop which is an exciting prospect for Boro supporters.