Sport: Chuba Akpom does his Middlesbrough chances no harm in positive start to the new season

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  Middlesbrough 2-0 Marseille report: Marcus Tavernier shines amid Bournemouth speculation Isaiah Jones and Marcus Tavernier earned Boro a comfortable victory on TeessideThe latter dominated the pre-match talk on Teesside, with reports claiming a deal to Bournemouth is close. However, Chris Wilder sent a defiant message to potential suitors by naming the 23-year-old in his starting line-up.

Chuba Akpom providing the assist for Middlesbrough's first goal of the season was a line not many would have expected to read even just a fortnight ago.

Chuba Akpom of Middlesbrough with the assist for Isaiah Jones © James Heaton/News Images Chuba Akpom of Middlesbrough with the assist for Isaiah Jones

The striker's Boro career seemed all bit over as he trained alone at the start of this summer following a loan spell last season at PAOK. the former Arsenal man had been sent packing back to Greece by previous manager Neil Warnock having failed to impress in his first season on Teesside.

Not proving the prolific goalscorer Boro had hoped for, the final straw came late on in that awful behind-closed-doors season when Warnock felt Akpom sulked and took too long to leave the pitch having been subbed off in a period in a game that Boro were chasing and needing a spark from the bench.

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READ MORE: Five positions Boro still need to strengthen clear in West Brom draw

With Warnock replaced by Wilder last term though, there was curious intrigue at the start of the summer to see whether Wilder would offer the striker an opportunity to reintegrate. When there was no sign of the 26-year-old at the start of pre-season, and then videos began appearing on his Instagram of him training alone back in the capital, it seemed clear that Akpom would have no chance to work his way into Wilder's plans.

Then, completely out of the blue, with just one friendly left to play and with no new strikers brought in yet, Akpom was suddenly back and involved as Boro wrapped up their summer friendlies with an impressive victory over French giants Marseille.

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Even with that chance of resurrection, until midway through last week Akpom wasn't expected to start in the 1-1 draw against West Brom. He would have been a good bet to come off the bench as Wilder gives him a chance to turn his Boro career around in the next month, but Riley McGree had been expected to play just behind Duncan Watmore from the start, much like he had for much of pre-season.

The Marcus Tavernier situation changed that, however, prompting Wilder to push McGree back into midfield and, with Marcus Forss only joining on Thursday, it was Akpom over young Josh Coburn that the Boro boss would hand that opportunity to. And with an assits and plenty more intelligent link-up play in a really positive outing, Akpom has certainly given Wilder food for thought as he plots his moves in the remainder of the window. Wilder likes striker options and he likes to rotate. More performances like the one against West Brom, Akpom very well may end up staying at the club beyond the summer transfer window.

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Asked about the striker after the game, Wilder said: “I thought he was excellent first half. He just ran out of gas, same as Duncan, after not completing much of pre-season. He missed most of the games and Duncan was the same because he has a slight issue at times that requires him to be pulled out of training.

"We’ll always know with Duncan that that’s there and that’s how it is. He hasn’t completed 90 minutes for us in my time, although I do know I often change it around. Duncan understands that he’s got to score that chance. But I thought Chuba’s performance was really good. He won his headers, he linked up play really well and showed he’s an intelligent player. If he’s about then we’ll work with him."

There's recent history at Boro for Akpom to take encouragement from too. Both Joseph Desire Job and Massimo Maccarone were sent out on loan and seemingly unwanted, only to return and score some vital goals for the club. Could Akpom become the latest striker to have such a rejuvenation? He certainly did his chances no harm on Saturday.

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Akpom and Giles emerge with credit, but there are three 4s in the Middlesbrough ratings at QPR

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