The encouraging signs and interesting tactical approach after Boro's win over Bishop Auckland
Sun shining, fans in the stands and the smell of burger vans dotted around the ground. This felt like a pre-season fixture as we knew it.
For the most of last year, the pre-match buzz, stirring emotion and sense of occasion were absent as games were played with a limited audience.
For Middlesbrough, this was their first pre-season friendly of the summer, and it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from a 3-0 victory over non-league side Bishop Auckland.
Yet there was a sense of excitement about what the season could bring, with fans set to return to stadiums for the 2021/22 campaign.
Boro will be aiming for promotion from the Championship, so the sight of new striker Uche Ikpeazu scoring a wonderful opener in the ninth minute was certainly encouraging.
After Warnock changed his entire team in the second half, Djed Spence added a second 18 minutes from time, before Jeremy Sivi made it three. Hopefully it’s the start of a successful campaign.
Warnock handed starts to trialist Dylan Bahamboula, the Oldham midfielder who has been training with the Teessiders, as well as new signings Joe Lumley and Ikpeazu.
The latter was a handful in the central striker’s role, holding the ball up when it arrived at his feet and turning past defenders with ease.
Ikpeazu certainly made a positive first impression after just nine minutes when a corner was half cleared to the frontman, before he outmuscled past a Bishop player and curled home a spectacular opener.
For all Boro’s possession, they didn’t produce many crosses for their towering frontman, yet Duncan Watmore did see two goals ruled out for offside – much to the annoyance of Warnock who shouted at the linesman, asking if the sun was in his eyes.
While the team that played in the second half included several academy players, experienced defender Lee Peltier, Lewis Wing, Chuba Akpom, Nathan Wood and Spence were also involved.
It was Spence who sealed the victory in the 73rd minute after a fine run down the right before an assured finish.
Sivi then capped a fine performance by getting on the scoresheet.
Boro started the game in a 4-2-3-1 system with Bahamboula on the right, Watmore on the left and Marcus Tavernier in the No 10 position.
Morsy and McNair controlled first-half proceedings in midfield as the hosts dropped back and got men behind the ball, while Hayden Coulson and Anfernee Dijksteel were encouraged to charge forward from full-back.
'Get to the back post' was Warnock’s message to Dijksteel when the ball was on the opposite flank. Whether the Boro boss will encourage his full-backs to be so offensive against higher-league opponents remains to be seen.
The second half followed a similar pattern, although the hosts managed to keep Boro at arm’s lengths.
Akpom and Calum Kavanagh were able to exploit space with runs behind the Bishop defence as the hosts pushed forward, but weren’t able to hit the target.
Bahamboula certainly didn’t do his chances of earning a contract any harm, while Ikpeazu showed what he can offer.
Sivi, 18, was a constant threat in the second half, where he was able to link up with Spence.
Boro will now head to Cornwall for a week-long training camp, where they’ll face Saltash United.