By Andrew Snaith
Middlesbrough showed the strength of their under 23 squad as they came from behind to thump Whitby in the Blues’ second pre-season outing.
The Blues welcomed back midfielder Dale Hopson and centre half signing Ben Askins, with Dave McTiernan and Mikey Roberts also added to Saturday’s starting line-up as Town lined up strongly against the Premier League side’s youngsters.
However, there was disappointment for the Seasiders as centre-half and assistant boss Lee Bullock limped off with a flare up from an old knee injury, inside five minutes. Former Darlington defender Paul Weldon took his place, before Mikey Roberts almost struck, after collecting a ball over the top, but fired straight at keeper Joe Fryer. Blues fans may recognise Fryer’s name from a brief loan spell at the Turnbull Ground in 2014.
Roberts then turned provider to put Whitby ahead on ten minutes. The ex-Spennymoor striker tricked his way down the left wing before cutting back for Hopson to slide home, with his right foot, from close range.
At the other end, Shane Bland saved a low angled drive that lacked power from Harrison Chapman and Alex Pattison went clear but drilled across the face of goal and wide. But the Boro pair promptly combined for their leveller, just after the half hour. Chapman caught Welland in possession on the right-edge of the Blues box, then quickly fed Pattison who fired into the top-right corner from 10 yards. By now, Whitby had lost Askins to injury too, as Kieran Weledji was introduced in a straight swap.
Just before the interval it looked as though Middlesbrough had turned the game on its head. Joao Morelli beat Bland in the air, on the edge of his box and picked out Chapman, who slotted into an empty net, before an offside flag cut short away celebrations.
Boro made five changes at half-time, as Whitby replaced Callum Martin, who picked up a first-half thigh injury, with big Jamie Poole. The second half Middlesbrough side looked impressive and hungry, they had the lead on 61 minutes. Adam Gell was a little too physical in his tussle with Joe Wheatley, who dusted himself off and expertly curled the resulting 22-yard free-kick over a three-man wall and into the top-left corner of the net. Town manager Chris Hardy replaced Bland with youngster James Dawson, but to no avail as a brilliant one-touch move ended in a crisp first-time 18-yard finish, low between the gloveman and his right-hand post, from Hayden Coulson. The left-winger could’ve struck again, within seconds, but he dragged wide as his shot struck team-mate Marcus Tavernier on its way past Dawson’s left-hand post, this time.
Roberts sent a rising 20-yard half-volley narrowly wide, but Boro’s fledglings hadn’t long to wait for their next goal. On 69 minutes, it was four when a driven left-wing ball was tapped home at the back post by Jordan McGhee. Some more great build up play then saw Callum Cook sidefoot past Dawson after a good initial block. Only a terrific goal-line slide from Poole denied Tom McAloon point-blank and the home crowd were further pleased when one of their own, 16-year-old Elliott Anderson, turned home after Anthony Hume beat Fryer in an aerial battle for Dan McWilliams’ left-wing cross. There was still time for one more Boro raid and Dawson was forced into a superb reaction tip-over to keep out Cook’s injury-time piledriver.
Whitby Town: Bland (Dawson 62), Martin (Poole 46), McWilliams, Bullock (Weldon 4), Askins (Weledji 18), Robinson (c), Gell (Organ-Simpson 80), McTiernan (Park 63), Roberts (Scarth 80), Snaith (Hume 68), Hopson (Anderson 80).
Middlesbrough XI: Fryer, Johnson (Halliday 46), McGhee, Elsdon (McGoldrick 46), Kitching (Cook 46), Maloney (Wheatley 46), Tavernier (Tinkler 46), Chapman (McAloon 65), Morelli (Fewster 46), Pattison (Mondal 65), Coulson.