Hayden Coulson might be one of the only people in Middlesbrough that wishes Steve Gibson hadn’t replaced Jonathan Woodgate with Neil Warnock last summer.
One of the only bright sparks during Woodgate’s time as Head Coach, Coulson’s toddler-on-a-sugar-rush energy and willingness to run at the opposition endeared him to Boro fans and helped spark a brief winter revival as he and Djed Spence broke onto the scene.
Having made 24 appearances under Woodgate and netting his first Boro goal against Blackburn, Coulson would have been pretty content with his progress before football was halted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, since Warnock has arrived, chances have been few and far between for the Gateshead boy especially during last season. The 23-year-old was limited to 17 appearances, mostly from the bench, after the emergence of Marc Bola and through his own faltering form when selected.
Coulson was briefly in the gaffer’s good books in late October and November when he and Spence again helped to re-energise the team going into the winter months but after playing in a 0-0 draw with Brentford on November 7th, the left sided utility man didn’t start another match until the dead-rubber with Luton in May.
He spent nearly three times longer on the pitch for Boro in the 2019/20 season (1875 minutes) than he did last season (623 minutes) and has come to a crossroads in his career.
There has been a lot of talk about the Academy graduate being allowed to leave either permanently or on loan, with Sunderland and Ipswich linked and the Tractor Boys are heavily credited with already having a deal in place.
A year away to build up a consistent run of games may be of great benefit to Coulson. He’s not defensively sound enough to dislodge Marc Bola from the starting line up as it stands, and even with a glaring lack of widemen at the club, he’s 4th choice AT BEST to start on the left hand side behind Duncan Watmore, Marcus Tavernier and Sammy Ameobi.
Letting Hayden Coulson leave the club this summer might not be of great benefit to Neil Warnock or Middlesbrough though. At least not yet.
Against Tavistock United last night, Coulson lined up in his favoured wing-back position in the fluid 5-2-3 system that the gaffer has spoken regularly about looking to use for the upcoming campaign.
The same formation Gareth Southgate used for England at the Euros, it relies heavily on the wing-backs to make it work from both an attacking and defensive aspect, giving licence for the wing-backs to join in with and beef up the attack while also being aware of their defensive duties.
It sounds like Coulson made the most of his opportunity in a role best suited to his strengths, scoring twice and setting up another for Uche Ikpeazu. His assist for Ikpeazu came from beating his man down the left hand side and firing across goal for the big fella to tap in at the back post while both goals were smart finishes.
His second in particular looked brilliant from the highlights Boro posted on their website, although you need a pair of binoculars to see the ball and make out each man in the Devonshire sun.
The Gazette’s reliable Craig Johns called it “lovely play in an intricate situation” so we’ll run with that, as I don’t think Craig has succumbed to heatstroke yet on his travels. What a job, ey mate!
Of course, there’s no point getting carried away by a 7-0 victory over Tavistock United, who play in the Western League Premier Division alongside the mighty Street F.C. and Mousehole but it will have given Warnock some food for thought.
There’s only Marc Bola who can currently operate as a left wing-back in this squad apart from Coulson and the gaffer will need depth if he wants to regularly use the 5-2-3 formation.
With plenty of action still being anticipated in the transfer window, Boro’s squad is low on numbers and it was down to young winger Isaiah Jones to take Coulson’s place at half-time.
Lee Peltier has been drafted in to provide cover along the backline but is not allowed to ever play for Boro as a wing-back. I’m putting my foot down.
Williams Kokolo has looked impressive for the Under-23s in a similar role although he’s yet to make his senior debut, while it would be a huge waste of Tavernier’s talents to force him there in an emergency.
This might change if Boro pick up a replacement in the next few weeks and there are still some options available in the free agent market. Connor Ogilvie excelled for Gillingham last season and bagged four goals and four assists, although that was as a more traditional left-back.
Former Boro boy Adam Reach was often used as a wing-back at Sheff Wed and would also give Warnock a quality option as an outright winger, if his wage demands were sensible. Kyle Edwards, another who could add versatility further forward, is available after being released by West Brom and is attracting attention from Reading and Charlton.
In the grand scheme of things, with the club aiming to get more bodies through the doors at Rockliffe, with resources needed for the premium forward positions next once deals for Matt Crooks and Martin Payero are completed, it may be a case of better the devil you know.
At least you know that Hayden Coulson will never stop running.
Photo Credits: The Gazette/Teesside Live, Middlesbrough F.C., PA