Five Premier League virgins we’re excited about

Date published: Sunday 29th May 2016 1:25

Middlesbrough

Moses Odubajo (Hull City): The only outfield player to start the Championship play-off final for a ridiculously experienced Hull who has not already played Premier League football, Odubajo could well be the best £3.5m Steve Bruce has ever spent. An exceptional, energetic right-back, Odubajo has formed an almost psychic partnership with Ahmed Elmohamady. Both can play right-back; both can play right midfield; together they can give left-backs nightmares.

Despite being only 22, the grounded Odubajo has played well over 200 senior games as he chose to join Brentford (from Leyton Orient) and then Hull rather than sit on a Premier League bench. Already an England Under-20 international, don’t bet against Odubajo coming to the attention of Roy Hodgson next season.

 

Andre Gray (Burnley): Another player who arrives in the Premier League via a rather circuitous route, Gray has played over 300 senior games before the age of 25, having been rejected by his hometown club Wolves at 13. His record was good for Hinckley United in the Conference North, great for Luton Town in the Conference Premier, excellent for Brentford in the Championship and then outstanding for Burnley at the same level as Gray scored 25 goals to secure automatic promotion for the Clarets. Prepare for a barrel-load of Jamie Vardy comparisons, especially as Gray has a knife scar on his cheek from a teenage gang fight.

After Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo and Callum Wilson (barring injury) all thrived in the Premier League last season, Gray will certainly fancy his chances in the top flight. “He’s enjoying his football and still learning. He looks a threat in every game,” said Sean Dyche in March. After watching Danny Ings score 11 but still get relegated in 2014/15, Gray will probably need to better that total in 2016/17. Right now you’d back the £6m man.

 

Adam Clayton (Middlesbrough): Having ruled out left-back George Friend because he made one Premier League appearance for Wolves against Manchester United – for which Wolves were fined for fielding an under-strength side – we arrive at Clayton, who only ever made it as far as the bench for Manchester City. Voted by his peers into the PFA Championship team of the season, the all-action Clayton has been outstanding for Middlesbrough in partnership with Grant Leadbitter since signing from Huddersfield for £1.5m in the summer of 2014.

“I remember my first game against Huddersfield (in March 2014) and five minutes into the match I asked ‘who is that player with the beard?’,” said Aitor Karanka. “I said that I liked him, and after 10 minutes I knew I wanted to sign him for the following season.” And sign him he did. Two years later Clayton is finally ready to get further than the bench at the highest level.

 

Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough): ‘I’ll resist the temptation to label the winger as a player with the potential to be Boro’s Jamie Vardy in the Premier League,’ wrote one local newspaper journalist in March. Too late – the comparison is already there, especially when you read on Wikipedia that ‘Adomah began his career playing semi-professional football with Isthmian League Premier Division club Harrow Borough, while studying Level 2 Decorative Finishing and Industrial Painting at the College of North West London.’

In August, Adomah issued a transfer request as his traditional Championship winger shtick of being a 4/10 player one week and a 9/10 sensation the following week did not sit well with Aitor Karanka’s Mourinho-lite style. The pair made up in September but in February, Adomah was dropped again. The kick up the arse worked and the Ghanaian international was outstanding in the run-in as Boro secured promotion. He could be another Jamie Vardy. Or he could be utterly useless and be on loan at Ipswich by October.

 

Jordan Rhodes (Middlesbrough): How many Premier League scouts have watched Rhodes and come away thinking he’s really not quick enough for Premier League football? How many have been left shaking their head and asking exactly what he does except score? With over 180 senior goals at the age of just 26, it’s about time we found out whether a slightly slow striker with an instinctive finish can thrive against top-flight defenders. It’s just a shame that Rhodes may be denied that chance by a manager who really would have rather signed Ross McCormack.

Rhodes’ last seven seasons have reaped 19, 16, 36, 29, 25, 21 and 16 league goals and yet it was David Nugent who was picked by Karanka to play in a final-day decider that Boro could not afford to lose. Not quick, not a hard worker…is there room for another Connor Wickham in the Premier League?

 

Sarah Winterburn

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