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Thursday 14 December 2017

5 challenges facing Middlesbrough in the Championship

Defeat at Chelsea relegated Middlesbrough
Defeat at Chelsea relegated Middlesbrough

Promoted Middlesbrough's stay in the Premier League has ended following just one season after defeat by title-chasing Chelsea proved terminal.

Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the challenge the Teessiders face as they prepare for life back in the Sky Bet Championship.

THE TOP JOB

Chairman Steve Gibson reluctantly opted for change in March when it became apparent that head coach Aitor Karanka, the man who had finally steered the club back into the top flight after seven years in the wilderness, had come to the end of the road. His decision to elevate assistant Steve Agnew to the hot seat and hand him the chance to make the job his own on a permanent basis sent eyebrows skywards, but it remains to be seen whether the modest improvement in fortunes since has provided enough evidence to back the caretaker's case.

STICK OR TWIST?

Middlesbrough conducted last summer's transfer business in measured fashion as they invested heavily in Atalanta midfielder Marten de Roon and less lavishly in full-back Fabio da Silva, defender Antonio Barragan and wingers Viktor Fischer and Adama Traore, while sealing free transfer deals for Victor Valdes, Brad Guzan and Gaston Ramirez and bringing in Calum Chambers and Alvaro Negredo on loan. Guzan, Chambers and Negredo will all leave and are certain to be followed by others and, while January signings Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford are likely to play bigger roles in the Championship, significant work will be required to assemble a squad fit for purpose.

FAMILY TIES

One of Gibson's biggest decisions this summer will involve his nephew Ben, who has enhanced his reputation as a central defender despite his home-town club's plight. His uncle will almost certainly receive offers - and very lucrative ones too - for another of the club's Academy graduates, with a series of Premier League rivals having admired him from afar for some time, and Gibson Senior will have to decide dispassionately which course of action will benefit Boro more.

SENSE OF ADVENTURE

Karanka's achievement in guiding Boro back into the big time will always be remembered fondly on Teesside, but his rigidly conservative approach in the Premier League may not. Being difficult to beat served the club well in the Sky Bet Championship, but it did not in the higher division as a lack of adventure until Agnew threw off the shackles hampered them, and rediscovering the balance between defence and attack will be one of the first objectives.

THE COMPETITION

No Middlesbrough supporter needs to be told how difficult life in the Championship can be after witnessing seven gruelling seasons on the road to promotion, and many of the players in the current squad have personal experience of that toil. The fact that only Newcastle of the three sides which went down last season finished in the top six this season tells its own story and, with Aston Villa and Norwich looking for better returns this time around and three of play-off quartet Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield and Fulham also likely to feature prominently once again, there are absolutely no guarantees of a quick return.

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