Middlesbrough’s season has fizzled out at an outstanding rate in recent weeks.
Since the turn of the year Neil Warnock’s side have struggled for consistency but found themselves just about hanging onto the coattails of the Championship’s top six clubs.
Back-to-back wins over Stoke City and Preston North End a month ago was seen as a potential match to kickstart a push for the play-offs, but supporters knew that they would need to win more often than not if they were to stand any chance.
Since then things have imploded with the club losing three of their last four games and drifting away in a mid-table position.
It’d be lovely if the club had the excuse of injuries to fall back on, but in truth the absence of players such as Dael Fry, Anfernee Dijksteel and Marcus Tavernier are only a small factor in recent results.
Instead we’ve seen a team of players who are lacking motivation, and in some cases, simply making too many individual errors.
One player who has come in for real criticism in recent weeks is Marcus Bettinelli.
The Fulham loanee has been the club’s first choice goalkeeper so far this season and deservedly so, but his inclusion as the undisputed first choice is arguably down to the lack of options rather than his own impeccable form.
This isn’t a column with the intention of bashing Bettinelli. While a torrid error against Barnsley proved costly at the weekend it’s merely gone to highlight how important it is to have a strong and stable goalkeeper between the sticks.
The 28-year-old is out of contract this summer, and while Fulham will hold the cards regarding his future, it’s not out of the question that Middlesbrough will try their look with a bargain move for the player.
But Neil Warnock must ensure that they sign a goalkeeper who will lead from the back.
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A reliable stopper can be responsible for earning a team 10-15 points per season if he can avoid unnecessary mistakes and keep clean sheet in tight, cagey affairs like the weekend’s trip to Barnsley.
That’s why the club’s recruitment team need to make sure that they sign a player who Neil Warnock and his defenders have full faith in.
Much has been made of Middlesbrough’s need to bolster their attacking options, and yes, it’s clear that Warnock’s side possess a painfully blunt forward line that wouldn’t strike fear into a club’s under-10 side.
But in my opinion it’s even more important that the club sign a goalkeeper who is a solid, reliable 8/10 performer every week of the season, bar none.
If they can do that then it’ll inspire confidence throughout the whole team and the supporters that the club are capable of handling the majority of attacking threats that they face.
If Middlesbrough don’t address that issue then supporters will have to get used to seeing a frail-looking side again next term – something that will see off any hopes of securing promotion.
The remaining weeks of this season should be used to give Jordan Archer and young goalkeeper Sol Brynn an opportunity between the sticks – after all, both of these players could provide some form of solution next term.
There’s also Dejan Stojanovic who many supporters believe deserves another crack at being the club’s number one when he returns from his loan spell this summer.
But if Neil Warnock isn’t pleased with those options then he must insist that the club don’t take the easy option and stick with what they’ve got, and instead throw all of their efforts into signing the sort of colossal figure that the club will need to thrive.