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29th July 2018

The last week has seen Boro play their final friendly fixtures before next Saturday's opening game at Millwall. Trips to Accrington, Rochdale and Friday's 'derby' against Sunderland, culminating in a final trip to Hartlepool yesterday have concluded a busy pre-season schedule coupled with strenuous training camps in Austria and Germany.

What have Boro fans learnt from these games and what are the signs of what we can expect now Tony Pulis has had chance to firmly stamp his own mark on the squad? He still might not have fully satisfied his plans and there is still time for new faces to arrive and some to be moved on. He still has the problem of players on decent contracts who he doesn't really fancy but are within their rights to stay put. Alternatively the club might have to take a hit on them or even subsidise wages as they are farmed out on loan.

Players seem to hold the majority of the cards nowadays and you can't really blame them. Would we take a drop in wages if our employers wanted to move us on?

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Players such as George Miller and Luke Armstrong have already finalised season long loan deals as part of their ongoing development at Bradford City and Gateshead and it is almost certain that more will follow. We are a long way off being a Chelsea with scores of players sent out on loan after loan without ever having a hope in hell of playing first team football at Stamford Bridge. It is though a fact of life that not every player that comes through a Academy system is going to progress to the first team but Boro do have a good record of producing footballers that enjoy good careers within the game.

Looking at the players currently in the first team squad, everyone has his price but perhaps some wheeling and dealing is necessary to get players that Tony Pulis wants into the club. Throwing cash around, as Aston Villa will testify, is not the sensible answer and backfires catastrophically if the cash cow of the return to the Premier league isn't quickly attained.

The friendly games gave Pulis a final chance to assess exactly which players he ideally wants around this season whilst giving some a final opportunity to change the boss's mind.

Spennymoor was the first domestic runout against a well organised progressive club that has enjoyed tremendous success under avid Boro fan Jason Ainsley's guidance, a useful workout with the performance and result not as important as attaining match fitness. That being said with no disrespect to Boro's non-league opponents there were some players who did not show anything like the class difference that should be apparent between players at the respective levels.

After another overseas trip it was back home and last Saturday's game at Accrington. Again, the 4-3 reverse was not a major concern, but as Pulis admitted afterwards the number of individual errors have to be eradicated. To the majority his starting eleven probably indicated his likely starting line-up for the new season from the players currently at his disposal. As the manager conceded post-match he needs a few new faces in to strengthen the squad. That was glaringly apparent to those in attendance at The Wham Stadium.

Tuesday night presented the chance for game time for many who didn't feature fully at Accrington and also the opportunity to force their way into first team contention. It was a very youthful squad and the likes of Harry Chapman and Lewis Wing did their chances no harm and if not at The Riverside look likely to enjoy first team football on loan this season. I feel though that the first public viewing for many Boro fans of 16-year-old Nathan Wood is what will live in the memory of those who attended. Boro have always had a reputation of producing quality central defenders and this young man looks to have every chance of adding to the long line of home grown players who have excelled in that position. Remember the name.

On Friday evening Sunderland made the short trip to Teesside for a friendly that was probably going to be vital in fine-tuning final plans ahead of next weekend's trip to Millwall. As we all know that encounter only lasted 45 minutes before horrendous weather conditions forced referee Ross Joyce to sensibly abandon the game at half time. Player safety has always got to be the major factor and with lightening crashing around the stadium he was left with no choice.

Boro fans will be wishing the storm had arrived 45 minutes earlier because the sight of Adoma Traore leaving the pitch in obvious discomfort clutching his shoulder was something that no one wanted to see. On a more positive note the cameo appearance of forgotten man Martin Braithwaite may have helped his cause in securing a place in the manager's plans.

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