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Town End 2022/23 Preview: Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers, Millwall

Continuing our pre-season preview series, this time we’re looking at the three sides who finished just outside the playoffs in 2021/22.

Millwall v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ivan Yordanov/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dana Malt (@danamalt) is a writer and podcaster for The Boro Breakdown (@boro_breakdown).

How excited are you by the arrival of Ryan Giles and Zack Steffen?

Zack Steffen is a statement signing - one that signals Boro’s intent for the upcoming season. I’m reluctant to form too big of an opinion on a goalkeeper given our last two, but he does fit the sweeper-keeper style that Chris Wilder wants, which is a big tick in the box. Pep Guardiola trusted him to be number two to Ederson for a few seasons, so surely it’s a case of third time lucky in the goalkeeper department.

Ryan Giles is the one that excites me the most though, and I’d even go as far as saying we’ll do well to make a better signing this window. He is as perfect a signing as we could get - an outlet on the left that we’ve so desperately needed; a different type of crosser (and an effective one at that); and a good set-piece taker. He takes some pressure off Isaiah Jones on the right and I can be confident we will have the service next season for whoever we bring in up front.

How’s Chris Wilder getting on so far?

He’s doing well. He laid down the foundations last season and now it’s about continuing the build. The transfer window has been challenging especially considering how important it is for us to bring in strikers, and it has to be stressed that the squad is a long way from being complete, but I think there’s more belief and trust than before - and it boils down to him.

How would you sum up last season?

That horse meme again probably! In a way it’s weird to think we started last season with a different manager because Wilder was able to translate his ideas over to the squad so seamlessly that it felt like he’d been there for longer. His appointment re-energised our season and although we missed out on the play-offs on the final day, the fact we were even an arm’s length away from the top six showcased how good of a job he did.

Editor’s note: Dana is referring to the following horse meme, which also made an appearance in the 2021/22 season preview

What are your general expectations for this season?

This is bold of me to say right now considering we only have two strikers on our books, but I expect us to score more. We’re usually on the lower end of the goals-for column whenever we place in the top half, but with Ryan Giles and Isaiah Jones as our wing-backs supplying the service, I think this is finally the time for Boro to be a goalscoring team.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Riley McGree. There are strong reports linking Marcus Tavernier with a move to Bournemouth and if he does leave, McGree will take his place. He’s not really been able to show his full capabilities yet but I like the way he plays. There’s an air of tranquillity when he’s on the ball - he’s like a gentle breeze gliding across the pitch such is his comfort in possession. There is an aggression about him though, in that he’s not afraid to get stuck in, but his creativity and vision is exciting. It’ll be a big season for him.

A younger name that could break through?

I probably can’t pick Josh Coburn here because he’s already broken through, so I’ll go for Bryant Bilongo. A left-sided defender that can play either as a left wing-back or as a left-sided centre half, he’s impressed in a times I’ve watched him for the under-23s and could be an ideal option as cover when needed for whoever gets the nod at LCB this season.

Where will you finish?

I think we’ll finish inside the top six this time, but exactly where depends on which strikers we bring in. I’m flickering between fourth and sixth at the moment.

You can find Mike Delap on Twitter here.

How important would keeping Ben Brereton Diaz be?

He’d be a big keep that is for sure given his goal output and growing leadership skills, but this summer is likely to see his departure (he’s out of contract in 2023) and I’d argue that could have just as bigger impact - if the funds are reinvested. If he does stay and play for Rovers he’ll be expected to play a major part. It’s all about weighing up the finances vs the on field benefit with Ben.

What do you make of new boss Jon Dahl Tomasson?

Well, it’s early days so no proper forecast can be made. On very early inspection it looks like Rovers will play with more attacking intent and as a result more openly... could go either way.

I would say he’s come across very well in his manner and interviews so far. But this is a results business so the odd quirky observation won’t count for a great deal if the outcome of matches don’t stack up in Rovers’ favour.

How would you sum up last season?

I thought we’d finish around 17th last season and we actually placed in eighth. So all in all, hard to call that anything other than a win. But the manner of the late-season implosion under Tony Mowbray again left a bad taste in the mouth. The glorious run between November and Christmas was a thing of joy however.

What are your general expectations for this season?

I am personally quite open-minded about how this one goes. Rovers have struggled to make any signings to date, leaving us with a very young squad and in need of experience/reinforcements. As long as we can steer clear of trouble and show some signs of progress then I’d say that’s a realistic target.

But this is the Championship, Rovers could just as easily finish third as 24th.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Rovers have a few young ones who could grow and nurture into first-team regulars given a chance this season - Jack Vale, Ash Phillips, Hayden Carter and Jake Garrett all spring to mind. But keep an eye out for the more established Tyrhys Dolan, assuming more responsibility each season and looks set for an extended run in the side.

A younger name that could break through?

A lot to choose from the list above. I’ll go with striker Jack Vale who is tall, mobile and has enough of a touch on him to take a chance if given one.

Where will you finish?

You tell me, it could be anywhere! I’ll go with 10th and see which way the wind blows!

Lucas Ball can be found on Twitter here.

How big will the loss of Jed Wallace be?

Jed was a huge player for us for years and one of the best attackers in the Championship consistently for probably the last three seasons. He chipped in with goals and assists, took set pieces and helped us to set the tempo, often winning us points almost single-handedly throughout his time at the club.

His departure, however, was expected, and in Zian Flemming we have potentially a ready-made replacement if he hits the ground running, with arguably a higher ceiling.

Millwall have been in and around the top six for a few years now - is it a matter of when, not if?

If you’d asked me that question at the start of the summer, I’d have said no way and that this season we’d be looking at anywhere from 12th-17th… although given how open the Championship looks this season, 12th might still be in the top-six mix.

Fast forward a few weeks and five signings, and we look strong. Benik Afobe has returned after top-scoring which will be key, Charlie Cresswell looks a strong addition at centre back, George Honeyman is experienced at this level and was a fan favourite at Hull and Flemming is hopefully the replacement for Jed. Jamie Shackleton has also signed.

Mason Bennett will hopefully be able to keep fit this season - he’s one of our best technical players, while Tom Bradshaw’s injury last season came in the middle of a real purple patch. The attack, on the whole, still looks one body light and we need some real pace to get in behind. We’ve been linked with Ellis Simms but I don’t know enough about him to comment too much.

Bartosz Bialkowski, Danny McNamara, Shaun Hutchinson, Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace and Scott Malone all formed part of a very strong defence last season and Cresswell, Shackleton and hopefully a new signing as competition at left wing-back add real strength in depth there.

Billy Mitchell, Tyler Burey and McNamara have all stepped up to feature more prominently in the first team and will be hoping to develop further - while it could be a breakthrough year for Isaac Olaofe if he doesn’t go out on loan.

How would you sum up last season?

Good overall, even if it was disappointing to just miss out after coming so close. Young players developed, Rowett further established a key identity and new processes were implemented at the club to improve recruitment and other areas - all among the ongoing stadium re-development designs and new training ground plans.

Had we had some more goals in the team, the gap to the top six may have been bridged already, so hopefully the likes of Flemming and a more confident Afobe can add some more goals.

What are your general expectations for this season?

To fight hard for the top six, without question. Much will depend on how quickly Flemming settles and adjusts to the Championship. If he gets off to a good start, the play-offs are a real possibility.

We have a very strong defence and some good midfield options in Honeyman, Mitchell, Ryan Leonard, George Evans and George Saville, who really hit form towards the back end of last season after some injury and Covid issues when he re-signed.

It is just about adding more goals.

Who’s your player to look out for?

Starting to sound like a broken record here but… Flemming! He scored double figures in the Eredivisie last season for a side who probably would have been relegated without him and looks a really exciting buy, particularly for the fee we paid. He also got a decent number of assists and could prove to be a bargain that we make a healthy profit from in a few years’ time. It was great to see that sort of signing as that’s a strategy the club needed to adapt for years with some signings.

A younger name that could break through?

Olaofe. He’s impressed on loan at Sutton in consecutive seasons and is a quick, powerful runner with decent finishing ability. How well he does in pre-season as a whole may determine whether we sign another striker.

Where will you finish?

I’m going to back Flemming to come good straight away and say we’ll finally, finally take that spot in the top six.