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Middlesbrough must increase their goal scoring rate

Middlesbrough have got the best defensive record by far of any team in the Championship. With only 20 goals in total scored against them in all league matches this season – that’s 6 goals less than Leeds or Sheffield United, the two teams with the next lowest goals conceded records.

The problem, however, is that they are not scoring enough goals. Of the four teams above them in the Championship table, Leeds and Sheffield United have scored 46 goals apiece, Norwich have scored 52 and West Brom a whopping 57.

You have to go down to 19th placed Wigan Athletic, with only 28 goals to their name, before you find a team with a worse goal scoring tally than the Boro.

But Tony Pulis is no mug. You only have to check out his record of playing against former clubs. Of course, he knows he must improve his attack, but so far, his only pursuit that we know about, is that of Fulham’s Kevin McDonald. The 30-year-old Scot could be coming to the Riverside Stadium on a six-month loan deal, with a view to making him a permanent fixture in the summer.

However, McDonald is a midfielder and not exactly a prolific goal scorer. He can’t even seem to command a regular first-team place at Craven Cottage. He has only featured in 11 of the 22 league games Fulham have played this season, and he hasn’t been selected since Boxing Day. Not exactly inspiring.

Boro are linked with moves for John Obi Mikel and League 1 hot-shot Karlan Grant while there is also reported interest in Crystal Palace’s little used Jairo defender Riedewald.

Perhaps Pulis should be looking inwards and not outwards? One of the brightest stars for Middlesbrough this season has not fulfilled his goal-scoring expectations, and it’s not a striker. It’s defender – Adan Flint.

In a recent poll of 3,000 supporters on who was the Boro’s best summer signing;, Flint came out a clear winner. You wouldn’t have thought it after his blunder in Middlesbrough’s opening game of the season against Millwall which led to their 1-0 defeat. Not a very promising start.

But since then he has blossomed, and when he is injury-free, he is one of the sure-fire starters for the best defensive unit in the EFL Championship

Last season, while playing for his former club, Bristol City, Flint scored nine goals – the majority from set pieces. It is somewhat disappointing then that the Boro are really struggling to score from dead ball situations. The only team in the Championship with a worse goal-scoring record from set pieces is Bolton who are just one off the bottom of the table.

But maybe things will get better on the goal scoring front in 2019. When Middlesbrough faced Peterborough in the FA Cup earlier this month, it looked like their lack of goal scoring ability would let them down again. But they got their act together in the second half and managed to score five. So, they can do it if they put their minds to it.

Flint is still out due to the hamstring injury he picked up just before the game against Derby on January 1st. But the good news is that he joined teammate Ryan Shotton in training this week. When he is fully fit, Pulis needs to reawaken Flint’s appetite for scoring from set-pieces.

At the moment, the Boro are well placed in the table. However, if they are to challenge for promotion, they must improve their goal scoring rate. It means that Tony Pulis needs to sort out any problems between him and top goal scorer, Britt Assombalonga, and retain his services while also getting Flint fit and back into the scoring habit he enjoyed while at Bristol City.

The news that Jordan Hugill, (Boro’s second top scorer) who is on loan from West Ham, doesn’t have a recall clause written into the loan deal is also welcome, given that the Hammers could well be saying farewell to Marko Arnautovic.

As long as the Middlesbrough defence can maintain its “best in the league” performance, and if the they start scoring a few more goals, their promotion prospects will remain alive and kicking.