Middlesbrough's Hayden Coulson has taken his chances in pre-season and is pushing for a start at Luton
The pathway into Middlesbrough’s first team appears clearer than ever for the club’s young prospects and 21-year-old Hayden Coulson has certainly taken his opportunities to impress in recent weeks.
The promising left-back was one of Boro’s standout performers during Tuesday’s pre-season win over Salford at the Peninsula Stadium, but could he be a regular fixture in Championship this campaign?
In his first interview as Boro’s new head coach, Jonathan Woodgate said he won’t be afraid to give players a chance in the first team. “If they’re good enough, they’ll play,” he said.
Coulson has certainly shown his qualities this summer, impressing at full-back in the friendlies against Hartlepool, Bishop Auckland and Salford, and his performances haven’t gone unnoticed.
“I thought he was brilliant again,” said Woodgate when asked about Coulson after the game at Salford.
The 21-year-old was excellent going forward at the Peninsula Stadium, where he once again showcased his ability to run with the ball at speed before assisting Boro’s third goal.
Even so, the youngster is still yet to make a competitive appearance for Boro’s senior side and will no doubt face far tougher tests in the Championship.
Coulson’s defensive qualities will be severely tested in the second tier, when the full-back’s forays forward are more likely to be exposed if attacks breaks down.
At Salford, Coulson played behind striker Ashley Fletcher, who isn’t exactly accustomed to tracking back, and at times there was a sizeable gap down Boro’s left channel.
It’s an area that higher league opponents could exploit and something Boro need to be wary of.
With club captain George Friend close to returning to full fitness, it is likely the experienced defender will be the Teessiders’ first-choice left-back this term.
That should take the pressure off Coulson who has shown, at the very least, he can challenge for a first-team spot at the Riverside.
And, with Boro’s Championship opener at Luton less than a week away, the youngster appears to have a real chance of starting at Kenilworth Road. That would really put his credentials to the test.