From five million pound-man to make shift defender. Paddy McNair’s first season as a Middlesbrough player didn’t quite go to plan.
Tony Pulis brough McNair south from Sunderland, to Rockliffe before the start of the 2018/19 season. To most fans he looked to be the replacement for Mo Besic, who has spent the last six months on loan at the Riverside.
With Sunderland dropping down the the third tier, it looked like an astute signing, to pick off the Black Cat’s best player as they looked to rebuild in a lower league. It also made sense to replace Besic, as the Bosnian’s stock would be high following his previous stint with Boro.
Just two months down the line, however, and McNair’s starting place was under question, as the emergance of former factory worker Lewis Wing had just begun.
The Northern Irishman was pushed further down the pecking order as Pulis brought his compatriot George Saville to the North East from Millwall, in a deal believed to be around £8m, as well as securing the services of Besic for another 12 months.
Pulis had fought to sign Besic on a permanent basis also, but the demands of the player’s agent saw a deal collapse.
These deals left McNair out in the preverbial wilderness, and it took him until Boxing Day to get his first full 90 minutes under his belt in the Championship.
The luck of the Irish is self-made
When Pulis departed in May, McNair had played his way into the managers squad… playing the last four games of the season in centre back.
He was, however, brought to the club to be a midfielder. McNair has even specified that he was a ‘number eight, box-to-box‘ after joining. So the appointment of Jonathan Woodgate gave the Manchester United academy product a chance to show he should be part of the rookie managers engine room.
Going into the first match against Luton Town, many fans believed the midfield would be constructed of Adam Clayton holding, with Wing and one other player out of McNair and Saville along side him – as Jonny Howson would be starting the match as right back.
Being given that opportunity, McNair has not looked back. His industry, both through the middle and down the right flank has caught the eye of many Boro fans.
The Gazette’s Antony Vickers labelled him ‘criminally underused last season’ during Boro’s last match against Bristol City, while a quick search of ‘McNair #BoroLive’ on Twitter unearths mutilpe instances of fans pointing to McNair being Boro’s best player this season.
It is little wonder, then, that McNair receive 63% of our Player of the Month vote.
How does Paddy progress?
Hopefully, the only way is up!
He bagged his first Boro goal against Millwall on August 24th, just what he has deserved as he has gone close on many occasion since the opening match – he hit the bar in that game too!
McNair has only missed two minutes of game-time this year in the Championship, and Woodgate’s side looked devoid of leaders in midfield when he was on the bench for the Carabao Cup fixture in August, when Boro bowed out to Crewe Alexandre.
Ironically, against the team who – on paper at least – were Middlesbrough’s easiest opponents, the importance of McNair was most clear to see.
Clayton will always do his job in the middle of the park for Boro, but with Wing looking a little off the boil since his thunderbolt hit the back of the net in Bedfordshire, the importance of McNair’s stellar performances seem to be growing.