With the transfer window having slammed shut, and the season firmly underway, Middlesbrough’s new boss Garry Monk has had time to assess his team.
A few questions remain on the lips of Teessiders, however. One such question is how Martin Braithwaite will fair during his debut season in the Championship.
Braithwaite is expected to shine in a fresh-faced Boro frontline this season, having arrived from French outfit Toulouse for £9 million.
— Martin Braithwaite (@MartinBraith) August 6, 2017
The Dane featured once for Monk’s men, in the opening day loss to Wolves, before sustaining a hamstring injury that has kept him out for over a month now.
It’s never ideal to lose a first team player at any point in the season, but as Braithwaite gets back to full fitness we take a look at the knock-on effects that his absence has had on Middlesbrough’s start to the season.
1 – Rudy Gestede has taken his opportunity with both hands.
Labelled a panic buy by many after his £6 million transfer from Aston Villa in January, Rudy Gestede is beginning to show why he earned his move to Villa Park in the first place.
The Benin international failed to find his feet in a Middlesbrough team who seemed destined for the drop, but after being called upon to stand in for Braithwaite following his injury at Molineux, Gestede has greatly impressed so far this term.
He was almost written off before the season had started – now he has proven (once again) to be a handful for defenders at this level – being involved in 2 of Boro’s 4 goals this season, scoring one.
Boro's Rudy Gestede is set for a spell on the sidelines after a freak injury that required an OPERATION to relieve pressure on a dead leg.
— Keith Downie (@SkySports_Keith) September 7, 2017
His impact has gone beyond the tangibles, however, and his influence will be missed as he looks set to be sidelined for up to 3 months with what Garry Monk described as a ‘freak’ injury.
2 – Britt Assombalonga will be able to take up a more central role, and thrive there.
Boro fans will have been doubly happy to see Assomabalonga arrive on Teesside this summer.
Not only does he bring a goal threat that Boro have been missing for years, but he also banished the name Afonso Alves to the history books as his £15 million transfer over took the £12.7 million Steve Gibson forked out for the Brazilian flop in 2008.
The former Nottingham Forrest frontman has been pushed out wide to accommodate Rudy Gestede in Monk’s ‘front three’ formation and this has diminished the impact that he has had so far for Boro.
If we’d have wanted a winger, we would have paid £15 million for a Tom Cairney or Anthony Knockaert – or maybe an Emmanuel Ledesma with today’s inflated market.
My point is, I expect Assombalonga to take this chance to cement his place as the central striker for Middlesbrough, and add to his two goals this season.
3 – Boro fans may have not been clamouring for a creative player.
The few who turned up to see Middlesbrough play Augsburg would have not only seen a screamer from former Fulham left-back Kostas Stafylidis, but also a great showing from Braithwaite who was stroking the ball around effortlessly behind Assombalonga and Patrick Bamford.
— Marty (@martylad77) July 29, 2017
This, along with his cameo away to Wolves, has not provided a great sample size for Braithwaite though. Many still think that he will come in and provide that creative spark that he-who-shall-not-be-named did when he arrived in January 2016.
If the Dane had been in the side, and Middlesbrough had still only netted four times, however, eyebrows may have been raised and more people may have been asking questions along the lines of “Where is the ‘pace and flair’ we were promised?”
“Why not go in for Jota again? £6m to Birmingham seems a bargain.”
“Is Marvin Johnson really going to be the answer?”
And so on.
After a whole year of utter dross such as last year, fans on Teesside are still reasonably cynical about the movements of their team. The mystery that still surrounds Martin Braithwaite could be something that fans believe will click the team into gear and helps them start to put a string of wins together.
It will be good to see Braithwaite in a Boro strip once again and I hope that will be sooner rather than later.
What do you think Boro fans – will you be happy to see him back? Drop a comment below!