Along with the parmo, heavy industry and hosting Miley Cyrus in Stewart Park, Middlesbrough is probably best known for its football team having a great youth system. The likes of Stewart Downing, Ben Gibson and James Morrison are those usually mentioned as the picks of the bunch.
In more recent years, however, Boro have seen players from the youth academy progress to the first team and contribute straight away. In 2015/16 it was Dael Fry, Marcus Tavernier in 2017/18 and Lewis Wing in 2018/19.
This season was different, as Jonathan Woodgate was brought to the club to help with the progression of youth players into the first team. He was successful in these aims too, with Tyronne O’Neil, Ste Walker, Ben Liddle, Hayden Coulson and Djed Spence all making their first league appearances for Boro before the end of 2019.
The latter two had a huge impact on Woodgate’s side. The performaces of Hayden Coulson, especially in the last games before the season was put on hold, put him in contention for Middlesbrough’s Player of the Season.
The Gateshead born wideman excelled in both defensive and more attacking roles over the course of the 2019/20 season. Coulson made an instant impact, playing in Boro’s first game of the season, away to Luton Town, and going on to make 22 further appearances for the Teessiders.
Djed Spence did make an instant impact when he was awarded his first start of the season, but he had to wait until December to make his first team debut.
Looking ahead, the biggest focus is on when the Championship season can resume, with the Premier League confirming that they will be restarting their competition on June 17th. We can, however, speculate for next season and that is what we are going to do, by seeing how could be Boro’s breakout youth star for the 2020/21 season.
Son of former Everton defender Alan Stubbs, Sam is currently out on loan with Ado Den Haag in the Netherlands. Stubbs impressed in preseason for the 2019/20 season, but could see possible play time at Middlesbrough increased next season.
Middlesbrough could, conceivably, be down three central defenders from this year’s side – should Daniel Ayala and Ryan Shotton agree moves away from the Riverside when their contacts expire at the end of the season, and Harold Moukoudi’s stay not extended when his loan from St Ettiene expires.
Stubbs would be up against Nathan Wood as well as any other recruits, but Stubbs has the experience edge over Wood – having played over 50 professional games and being four years older.
Unlike Stubbs, the aformentioned Liddle has seen the field for Middlesbrough – in the dying minutes of a 4-0 loss to Leeds United. Liddle also played away at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the FA Cup replay in January.
Liddle could also benefit from the expiration of contracts in the Boro squad, as Jonny Howson and Adam Clayton’s deals are due to end after the season. Howson recently remarked that he wouldn’t be drawn on speculation about a new deal to stay in the North East.
Liddle only played once for Scunthorpe following a loan to Glanford Park on January 20th, but the regular captain of Middlesbrough’s Under 23 side is held in high regard by those at Rockliffe, so could be given a chance next season.
A name that will be familiar to all Boro fans, Walker has seven appearances to his name this season. Many thought Walker may get his chance this season when injuries to Britt Assomblonga and Rudy Gestede left Ashley Fletcher as Middlesbrough’s only fit striker.
Unfortunately for Walker, he was not given an extended run in the squad and was eventually loaned out to Crewe Alexandra in January where he scored his first league goal.
Walker is no stranger to the goal, however as he has six goals in nine games for England’s Under 19s as well as four in seven for Middlesbrough in the PL2 before his loan.
Would the step be too big for the 19-year-old? This was the step Lewis Wing made last season, so it has been done before. Should Boro not offer Gestede a new deal, Woodgate may find himself needing striker depth and he could look Walker’s way for that.
Redcar-born Hackney is probably best known for his winning goal against Burton Albion in last season’s Checkatrade Trophy.
Hackney has been progressing well since that point, so much so that Woodgate gave him a spot on the bence for the Championship match against Barnsley in November.
“Hayden has been outstanding for the U23s” said the Boro boss, when quizzed about the midfielder’s inclusion in the squad. Hackney had played 14 times for Middlesbrough’s PL2 side, netting on once. With the possible loss of Clayton, mentioned with Liddle, Hackney could be given a chace in the first team.
Many fans may have expeceted Malley to be one of the players who broke into the first team this season, along with Nathan Wood. This was because, even though he is yet to make an appearance for Middlesbrough, Malley was often the ’19th man’ in Tony Pulis’ squad last season.
Whether he did not make enough impact in preseason, or if Woodgate just thought Boro were set in central midfield, we just don’t know, but in the PL2 this season, Malley scored twice and assisted twice in 12 matches before moving to Ayr United on loan.
Malley scored his first goal in proffesional football in five Scottish Championship appearances. Could he be the player to make the step up next season?