According to Hartlepool Mail (h/t The Northern Echo), Stoke City have been credited with an interest in Middlesbrough full-back George Friend, with new manager Michael O’Neill keen to bolster his backline during the mid-season trading period.
The 32-year-old left-back is among a group of six first-team stars who are out of contract at the Riverside Stadium next summer. Boro’s problematic financial situation means that they will not be able to offer all the players new deals on the same terms which they enjoy currently (Hartlepool Mail h/t Northern Echo).
Friend, who is currently one of the club’s longest-serving players, hasn’t been deemed surplus to demands on Teesside just yet but Stoke City could exploit the veteran’s unsettled contract situation with a potential move.
The Barnstaple-born defender played regularly in the Championship under Tony Pulis in the previous campaign but he has just started twice for Boro this season, with Jonathan Woodgate preferring summer recruit Marc Bola and academy prospect Hayden Coulson in that role.
Despite the team’s lacklustre performances over the first three months, Woodgate hasn’t given Friend a fair crack of the whip at left-back. As a result, the veteran has found himself lost in the cold.
To that end, Middlesbrough and Stoke City are pretty much on the same boat as far as their position at the bottom of the table is concerned and it remains to be seen whether or not Friend would be keen to switch to another relegation-threatened outfit midway through the campaign.
Realistically, Stoke City could possibly strike gold with their business in the January transfer window if the move does come off, given that the Potters do not have a lot of depth at left-back.
Nathan Jones deployed James McLean more often than not in an unfamiliar left-back role in the first quarter of the campaign. While former Burnley star Stephen Ward has been reinstated in the playing XI by new manager Michael O’Neill, the Potters can certainly do with another experienced head in that position.
A defensive record of 29 goals conceded in 16 league fixtures looks quite dismal on paper and clearly epitomizes the need to bring in some reinforcements at the back, with Ward already 34 and out of contract at the end of the season.
Notwithstanding the fact that Bruno Martins-Indi and Sam Clucas are capable of filling in at left-back, Stoke City need more cover if they are to achieve a better defensive record in the coming days.
A veteran of 287 appearances for Boro, George Friend certainly has a wealth of experience under his belt.
Huddersfield Town had been shipping goals at an alarming rate before they signed Danny Simpson a couple of months back and the acquisition of the former Premier League winner has proven to be a masterstroke.
With that in mind, the arrival of George Friend at the bet 365 Stadium could potentially have a similar positive impact.
All in all, Stoke City’s interest in the out-of-favour Middlesbrough star certainly strikes the right chords.
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