Middlesbrough went into the final day of the 2021-22 season with a small chance of making the Championship play-offs – they ended it with humiliation and their status as a second tier club for the following campaign confirmed.
It would have been inconsequential anyway as Luton Town and Sheffield United both won to cement their top six spots, but Boro went down in abject fashion 4-1 to a Preston North End team who had nothing to play for at Deepdale.
The performance as a whole from a team that has had so many high moments under Chris Wilder has probably led to the Boro boss deciding that major changes need to be made this summer, and he’s started by releasing experienced trio Lee Peltier, Sol Bamba and Neil Taylor.
Quiz: Which club did Middlesbrough sign these 24 players from in the 2000s?
Both Peltier and Bamba featured in Wilder’s back three at times this past season, so naturally replacements will need to be sourced and they could even slot straight into the starting 11 at the Riverside Stadium next season.
One player who must be at the top of Middlesbrough’s shortlist if they have money to spend is Barnsley’s Michal Helik, who despite being relegated with the Tykes to League One has proved himself to be an incredibly solid Championship defender.
Little was known of Helik when he arrived in England in September 2020, but he quickly became a force for Barnsley and in his first season at Oakwell, he was named the club’s Player of the Year as Valerien Ismael’s side made it against all the odds to the play-offs.
Even though he was featuring in a struggling side in the season just gone, Helik was still the leader of two important defensive stats in the Championship this season.
The Pole had the most interceptions with 96, despite only featuring in 38 league matches, whilst only Curtis Davies could better the amount of clearances he made, which was 207 – all of which averages out at 2.5 interceptions per match, 5.4 clearances whilst also blocking 0.9 shots a game.
Because of Barnsley’s struggles, Helik had a lot more work on his plate when it came to his job, but as a Poland international he will need to move on if he wants to earn more international honours you’d imagine.
The current back three of Anfernee Dijksteel, Dael Fry and Paddy McNair at Boro is solid enough but no-one covered themselves in glory against North End, and with McNair able to play in midfield as well that could open up a slot for a first-choice centre-back to arrive – that man should be Helik.