This article is part of Football League World’s ‘FLW Greats’ series, this content strand is where we look back on a player’s individual season and discuss how impressive they were…
It was a season where Middlesbrough nearly pulled off the unthinkable.
48 games went by with the Teessiders putting themselves on the brink of an unprecedented return to the Premier League – all that they had to do was jump one final hurdle as they faced Norwich City at Wembley Stadium.
Unfortunately that wasn’t to be their year, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t plenty to be hugely excited about over the campaign.
Players such as Ben Gibson, Grant Leadbitter, Jelle Vossen and Patrick Bamford are the names that every Boro fan remembers when reminiscing about what might have been, but one player enjoyed a real coming of age season to become a key man under Aitor Karanka.
Lee Tomlin was a player of undoubted talent, but one who has had to battle and scrap for everything that he’s achieved in his career.
After being released from Leicester City’s youth set-up, Tomlin’s technical ability has had to be paired with his resilient personality to rebuild his career after linking up with Rushden and Diamonds.
The attacking midfielder then spent three and a half years with Peterborough United where he made his name in the EFL as a player who, on his day, could be anything he wanted to be.
His big opportunity came midway through the 2013-14 season when he joined Middlesbrough on a loan deal until the end of the season with an option of a permanent move.
Based on his early displays it was no surprise that the Teessiders activated that clause within a couple of weeks of him making the move.
Tomlin found his feet in the Championship that term but really kicked on the next season as Aitor Karanka’s plans really came together.
Playing as the central attacking midfielder in a rigid 4-2-3-1, Tomlin was able to use his incredibly natural vision to feed the likes of Bamford, Vossen and Kike who formed the attacking unit around him.
The midfielder arrived at the Riverside Stadium with the reputation of being something of a maverick, and while that would prove to be frustrating on occasion, it was that unpredictability that made him a real force to be reckoned with.
Tomlin was either non-existent in a match, or he was simply sublime – there was no seven-out-of-ten performances as far as the Leicester-born star was concerned.
But it’s the numbers that the midfielder produced that really show how influential he was that season.
Tomlin scored 10 goal for Middlesbrough that season and racked up 11 assists in the process, showing that he was a crucial ingredient to Karanka’s side.
Notable moments included a brace at home to Huddersfield Town and his stunning strike in the play-off semi-final fixture with Brentford.
However the most memorable moment will surely be the Dennis Bergkamp-esque turn that Tomlin pulled off on Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany in the FA Cup fourth round.
It was moments like that which showed just how easy he found the game – even against one of the worlds’ best.
Lee Tomlin’s time with Middlesbrough always suggested that Premier League football would be the next step for one of the most naturally-gifted players to grace the Riverside Stadium in recent years.
With the Teessiders missing out on promotion, that switch came when Bournemouth came knocking – and while it was a move that didn’t work out for the midfielder, there can be no qualms that he deserved the opportunity.
Tomlin is now recreating the form that he showed for Middlesbrough with Neil Harris’ Cardiff City side, and watching on from a distance is very much seems like he’s a player who has got his mojo back after a difficult few years.
Maybe Lee Tomlin will be able to help the Bluebirds to promotion, and maybe that will lead to another opportunity to pit his wits against the worlds’ best defenders in the Premier League.
But if it doesn’t then nothing will take away the memories of what he did during his time with Middlesbrough and how he so nearly guided the Reds to the most unlikely of promotions.