Following his arrival at the Riverside Stadium last November, there was optimism amongst supporters that Chris Wilder would be able to lead Middlesbrough into Championship play-offs within six months – however it wasn’t to be in the end.
Boro fell short by just five points in the end – their 4-1 trouncing on the final day at the hands of Preston North End proving insignificant thanks to wins for Sheffield United and Luton Town – but what it did do was give them a platform to build on for the 2022-23 campaign.
There were lots of positives to take from Boro’s performances following Wilder’s replacement of Neil Warnock, but perhaps the weakest area was at the top end of the pitch.
Wilder bolstered the Teessiders’ attack with the loan additions of both Folarin Balogun and Aaron Connolly during the January transfer window, but neither really showed their best form, and come the end of the season, no striker on Boro’s books hit double figures for goals.
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Both Balogun and Connolly, along with another loanee in Andraz Sporar, have all returned to their parent clubs, and with that leaving just Duncan Watmore and young Josh Coburn as options, Wilder needs to strengthen dramatically.
The top target looks to be Coventry City hot-shot Viktor Gyokeres, with the 23-year-old Swede scoring 17 times for the Sky Blues last season, but his capture would cost a lot of money – money that will only be available once Djed Spence departs.
There’s definitely a need for an experienced back-up though to come off the bench and try to change a game if things are going wrong – a player in that mould has already been linked in the form of Jordan Rhodes, but the 32-year-old is still under contract at Huddersfield Town for another two years.
A player in a similar mould to Rhodes is Charlie Austin, and unlike his fellow striker, the ex-Burnley and Southampton man is a free agent this summer, with Queens Park Rangers choosing not to extend his contract.
Like Rhodes, Austin is 32 years old and after spending four full seasons in the Premier League with the R’s and Southampton, took a step down into the Championship, firstly with West Bromwich Albion and then once again with QPR.
If there’s one thing that Austin knows what to do, it’s putting the ball in the back of the net, but there is an argument to suggest that his legs may have somewhat gone.
Upon his return to Loftus Road in January 2021 on loan from West Brom, Austin scored eight times in 21 appearances, which was a very good record considering he’d barely featured for the Baggies in the first half of the 2020-21 season.
His fortunes in 2021-22 though were a little different, scoring five times in 34 league outings, but just 15 of those appearances were from the start of a match.
Lyndon Dykes was the undisputed first-choice under Mark Warburton when he was fit, relegating Austin to a impact substitute role.
That’s what he may be at this stage of his career, but that could be beneficial to Middlesbrough, who will need some depth when it comes to their striking options.
And who better to pick up than a player who has scored goals all throughout his career like Austin?