Sunderland v Middlesbrough: Opportunity knocks for Boro’s misfiring strikers

Middlesbrough's Patrick Bamford. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
Middlesbrough's Patrick Bamford. Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA
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TONY PULIS is challenging Britt Assombalonga and Patrick Bamford to ‘step up to the plate’, with first-choice forward Rudy Gestede expected to be sidelined for the rest of the season.

The Boro target man hobbled off in the latter stages of Tuesday’s 3-1 home win over Hull City – a game which saw him score twice – and scans have revealed that he has fractured his ankle.

Middlesbrough's Britt Assombalonga. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

Middlesbrough's Britt Assombalonga. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

The news is a untimely blow for Boro and Pulis, who had identified Gestede as his number one and preferred striking option, having made the decision to drop top-scorer Assombalonga.

The £15m man has endured a difficult start to life under Pulis at Boro and has struggled for game time and failed to find the net so far, with the situation compounded by a horrible late penalty miss when he came on as a substitute in the recent home game with Reading – with the forward deciding to take a late penalty himself despite designated taker and captain Grant Leadbitter still being on the pitch.

Bamford has also had his issues this season, but with fellow forward Ashley Fletcher on loan at today’s opponents Sunderland – while ineligible for today’s game – an in-house answer must arrive if the Teessiders are to remain in contention for the Championship play-offs.

On the Gestede injury Pulis said: “He won’t play again this season, we don’t think. It is a massive blow for us as a football club. Out of all of the strikers, he has looked the most likely to score in the games we have played.

Out of all of the strikers, he has looked the most likely to score in the games we have played. We are really disappointed.

Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis on Rudy Gestede

“We are really disappointed, but we have got options up there, whether it is Patrick or Britt, they have to step up to the plate.”

Despite the setback, Boro head into today’s derby as favourites against a desperate Sunderland side who have lost their last five matches against their north-east rivals.

A difficult season has long since passed the point which it has deteriorated into a crisis one for the Wearsiders, whose manager Chris Coleman revealed yesterday that he has never spoken to Black Cats owner Ellis Short, despite being appointed in mid-November.