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29th July 2018

Down the ages at every club in the land the centre forwards, as they were previously known, goal-scorers, or more recently target men, have always been the players most likely to grab the headlines and goals that win games and the plaudits that go with regularly putting the ball in the 'onion bag'.

Boro have had a long list of such players, indeed we once held the record transfer deal when we paid 1,000 for the services of George Camsell. He certainly knew where the back of the net was and would probably be worth 200million plus in today's crazy world.

Older fans will remember the likes of Brian Clough and Alan Peacock who led the line to great effect at Ayresome Park. I grew up with Arthur Horsfield, John Hickton and John O'Rourke and the memories of Hughie McIlmoyle leaping like a salmon to score and create opportunities for others.

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We've always had heroes up front and whilst many more provided the goals, none were more prolific than Bernie Slaven, a goal poacher extraordinaire who usually enjoyed the benefit of playing off a big-man, in the good old days when the majority of teams deployed wingers to provide the ammunition for a centre forward to score galore or provide the knock downs for the likes of Bernie to finish.

The memories of Terry Cochrane turning full backs inside out and putting in quality crosses, making it harder for forwards to miss than score are in the main firmly in the memory bank, unlikely to be rekindled as teams deploy the one man up front policy.

Hopefully, as England showed at the World Cup and Manchester City and Chelsea in recent seasons have proved, playing three men at the back gives scope for playing two men up front with support from the wide men is more attractive and with the right players can be very successful.

Some managers still prefer the 4-2-3-1 system, none more than Aitor Karanka, and it remains to be seen when Tony Pulis gets the players he wants whether or not he changes his formation, though he does appear to be an advocate of four men at the back.

Boro have certainly had some quality upfront since the Riverside revolution, indeed in some cases world class. Hamilton Ricard brought South American flair and we enjoyed the skills of Ravenelli and Boksic. In recent seasons though the curse of the Riverside seems to have affected those brought in the improve our goal rate. Many have failed mainly, many supporters would claim, because of them being left alone up front with little or no support. Club record fees have been paid and surpassed and the players have left, usually with their goal scoring records not being enhanced by their stays on Teesside.

From Alfonso Alves to Britt Assombalonga we have brought in many players who appeared to be the real deal with proven track-records to then see them fail to consistently hit the back of the net or quickly drop out of favour.

In many cases though it wasn't all down to the players. Jordan Rhodes was treated abysmally by the management and the sight of Negredo ploughing a pointless lone furrow ahead of a team who were set out not to lose rather than play to his strengths was so wasteful. Stuani, who has proved that given the opportunity and played in the right position he can finish, was another example of a player whose predatory skills were wasted whilst at the Boro. Even Patrick Bamford, whilst not being a recognised target man has shown that when employed centrally is far more productive then played further back or wider.

At the time of writing Boro have several players who hold the striking options at the club. Whether they are the answer or indeed, as is rumoured, the manager wants new personnel to score the goals and lead the line it is without doubt crucial to any promotion hopes. As we witnessed in the play-off semi-final defeat against Aston Villa, over the two legs we just didn't threaten enough in the final third and didn't really look likely to score.

That has to change and Boro supporters no doubt, like the manager, are desperate that the club gets the players in and the system in place to create and take chances. One thing is for sure the players who do come in will be handpicked by the manager to play the style and system he prefers and hopefully gone are the days of square pegs and round holes.

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