Patrick Bamford can boost Middlesbrough in relegation battle

Patrick Bamford could be the perfect tonic for a stalling Middlesbrough side who are muddling through the middle of their first Premier League season in seven years.

The 23-year-old striker enjoyed halcyon days with the Teessiders back in 2014-15, scoring an impressive 17 league goals. His winning combination of creativity and goal-scoring helped to propel the club to the Championship playoff final (a 2-0 loss to Norwich) in head coach Aitor Karanka's first full term.

But he has done little since and his star faded somewhat upon the end of his loan spell on Teesside. After his summer return to Chelsea, Bamford was immediately farmed out to both Crystal Palace and Norwich City on loan, where he notched up just four appearances across the whole season. Then, at the start of this campaign he went to Burnley with high hopes of playing, but manager Sean Dyche has not found cause to use him.

Bamford is clearly keen to get much more first-team experience under his belt and, with the realisation that was not going to happen at Chelsea, opted for a permanent return to Boro -- putting pen to paper on a four-and-a-half-year deal, reportedly worth £6 million.

In Bamford's absence, Boro rode out a rocky 2015-16 season that ultimately saw them promoted to the Premier League on the final day. Since then, they've spluttered their way through their time in the top flight, suffering a few disappointing defeats to their peers but also enjoying a handful of memorable performances against the league's bigger and better sides.

Karanka has fond memories of the young forward and previously went on record to say that Bamford would be welcome to return to the club. He even tried to sign him this time last year to fuel the club's promotion bid, but the striker chose to stick with his Premier League options.

But given that Boro recently bought former Aston Villa striker Rudy Gestede, and have had an eager Jordan Rhodes (who has not had much action for the past six months) waiting in the wings, what will Karanka have in mind for Bamford?

A tough opponent for defenders, he has a real knack for cutting inside at pace, something that current favourite striker, Alvaro Negredo, is too slow to do with great success.

Bamford often played up front as the sole forward in his Championship days at the Riverside, but he had plenty of support from the likes of attacking midfielders Albert Adomah and Kei Kamara. Another of his strengths is his versatility and he can play on the right, which may bring much more joy to Boro's woeful attacking prowess.

Current wingers Viktor Fischer and Cristhian Stuani have been hit and miss in this role, with speedy Adama Traore's impact muted by his poor final ball. It would certainly be interesting to see both Bamford and Negredo in the same starting lineup -- probably the strongest attacking presence that Boro have had since they returned to the top flight.

Something needs to change up front. The club are teetering on the edge of a burgeoning relegation battle, sitting just four points clear of the drop zone, and this weekend sees a rampant West Ham pay a visit the Riverside, with the Hammers on the verge of turning their fortunes around thanks to the rejuvenation of in-form striker Andy Carroll

Bamford could bring real impetus to the side if he slots straight into Karanka's starting XI. The current Boro line-up have been criticised for their defensive-heavy performances and lack of cutting edge at the other end of the field -- last time out in the 0-0 draw at Watford, the Reds only managed one shot on target.

If given a chance, the youngster's return to Teesside could well mark Middlesbrough pressing the "reset" button on their campaign and push them forward for Premier League survival, complementing their admirable defensive statistics with a more accomplished attack. His footballing brain and vision certainly made him a cut above in the Championship, but can he make the step up to compete with the best players in the world?