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Friend showing there's life after Joe at Boro
FANS of Joe Bennett may prefer not to read on. After all, Middlesbrough are looking pretty well placed to cope without the young England Under-21 full-back this season - and the club's bank balance looks healthier too.
It looked a decent bit of business on Boro's part when they agreed a fee - £3m down potentially rising to £4.2m - with Aston Villa before the August deadline day.
But the performances of George Friend have helped to make sure the Bennett deal looks even greater now. For all the latter appears to have a bright future, selling him helped manager Tony Mowbray to dip in to the transfer market as much as he did during the summer.
And if there were concerns about how the team would cope without a left-back that had become an automatic pick over the previous two campaigns, then Friend has completely eased such worries.
Friend arrived, predominantly, as a centre-back more than capable of performing competently at full-back. Now even he has to admit that he is enjoying the role even more than he has ever done before.
"I thought I preferred to play centre-back!" he said. "But I am really enjoying this position. When I first came I told the manager that I do like centre-back as well, but I am really liking this now.
"The opportunity came along when Joe was injured and then left, hopefully I have shown what I can do to the manager and I don't want to come out of there right now.
"I am really enjoying setting up goals and things, so the manager can keep playing me there as long as he wants to. It's been very good so far, hopefully that will continue."
Friend is yet to score his first goal since signing from Doncaster for just £250,000 in the summer. His marauding runs from deep, however, have quickly won over the Teesside fans and his presence led to both goals during Tuesday night's 2-0 win over Hull City.
While his attacking style has impressed everyone at the Riverside, his manager has also been impressed by Middlesbrough's improvement defensively. Back-to-back clean sheets have been kept after only shutting out one other Championship team so far this season.
And Mowbray said: "It's good that we've been keeping clean sheets in the last couple of games to win matches, something that we're working hard on. Yet a deflected goal here, a wonder goal there - you have to work hard for clean sheets because you know it's not always possible to keep them."
Three wins in a row has lifted Middlesbrough up to third in the Championship before this afternoon's visit from Bolton. The Trotters are experiencing similar troubles to those encountered at the Riverside when they went down in 2009.
Bolton, relegated in May from the top-flight, will head to the Riverside five points adrift of the top six and they sit closer to the bottom three. After appointing Dougie Freedman as Owen Coyle's replacement, Middlesbrough do not know what to expect.
"A new manager can change things," said Friend. "It can work either way. It will either galvanise them to show what they can do or it can take time for a new man to bring his style and get the team playing to his style.
"We will hope it will be the latter. We have to focus on ourselves and we are confident after the recent wins. If we create as many chances as we did against Hull then I am sure we will be alright."
Middlesbrough's climb to within three points of leaders Leicester and Cardiff City brings increased weight of expectation to stay there. Friend is happy to have that added pressure inside the dressing room.
He said: "I am so pleased to be at a club sitting third. This club is a Premier League club and we don't want to let it slip that we are in the mix to go back there. We want to be right up there pushing for the top two and the Premier League all season.
"We don't want to lose that. We don't want to be knocked down. When we are losing games we want to be fighting to turn it around because we want it in our head that we don't want to slip.
"We are third but those further down, even tenth, are right behind us. We have to stay focused and keep this going."