Middlesbrough's full-back dilemma highlighted after Gateshead win
When the team sheet dropped at the International Stadium on Wednesday night there was some surprise to see Jonny Howson’s name so high up the list.
The 31-year-old midfielder was handed the No 2 shirt for Middlesbrough’s pre-season friendly at Gateshead, before taking up his place on the right side of defence.
It’s not a new position for Howson, who played as a right wing-back under previous manager Tony Pulis last season, yet the move did highlight Boro’s lack of options in the defensive berth.
Howson, who missed the squad’s pre-season trip to Austria due to the birth of his son, was keen to get minutes under his belt and get back up to speed after the off-season.
The Leeds-born midfielder was one of Boro’s most consistent performers last term, his energy and work rate making him one of the first names on the team sheet.
“I’ve always said I don’t mind where I play, said Howson after the Gateshead win. ”I give my best shot, I give everything I’ve got. If it’s enough great, if not I know I’ve given everything I can.”
But is Howson really a long-term right-back solution for head coach Jonathan Woodgate?
To this observer it seems Boro need a more natural fit, with Howson’s qualities better suited to the middle of the park.
Boro’s other right-back options include the experienced Ryan Shotton and up-and-coming teenager Djed Spence, who started the friendly against Grazer AK and came on at half-time against Gateshead.
Shotton, 30, was Boro’s regular right-back under Pulis, after moving across from a centre-back role, and at times appeared uncomfortable on the right of a 3-5-2 system.
Spence, meanwhile, looks like a promising prospect, yet, at only 18 years old, it would be a risk to throw him straight into a 46-game campaign with little back-up.
Boro face a similar dilemma on the opposite flank with George Friend the squad’s only senior option, while 20-year-old Patrick Reading is also emerging.
Even so, the Teessiders still look a little light in the full-back areas and could use some reinforcements ahead of the new campaign.