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Boro get a Luke at one that got away; FREEMAN WAS SAID TO BE ON PULIS' RADAR.

Byline: DOMINIC SHAW dominic.shaw@reachplc.com @domshawgazette

A COUPLE of weeks ago it was Yannick Bolasie and Tammy Abraham; this weekend it's Luke Freeman. What could have been.

Middlesbrough will look to do today what they struggled to do when Aston Villa visited: contain a summer target.

Freeman was said to be on Boro's radar in the summer but Rangers, despite their financial troubles, stood firm and held on to their star man.

Of the 58 goals they scored in the Championship last season, the 26-year-old had a hand - either scoring or creating - in almost a third of them.

Freeman admitted his own head was turned in the summer, with the prospect of winning promotion to and then playing in the Premier League grabbing his attention.

But he didn't rock the boat at Loftus Road, staying professional and focused.

The season was not just a slow starter for Rangers but it was for Freeman himself, says Phil Spencer, Football.London's QPR correspondent.

He completely understands why the playmaker was a man in demand in the summer and although Freeman has struggled to match his impressive stats from last season, Spencer says the former Bristol City man looks a better all-round player this term.

"Freeman got the joint-third highest number of assists in the Championship last term - an outstanding achievement for a team that finished 16th with a relatively low goal tally," he said.

"While he doesn't necessarily tick the box regarding a player with out-and-out pace, his ability to harvest a chance out of nothing for his teammates is certainly something that would give Middlesbrough's promotion credentials a boost." Spencer added: "There's no doubting that the transfer speculation had an impact on Freeman - he said so himself in an interview after the window shut.

"It took him a while to get back to what he does best, but his new contract has really given the midfielder a platform to show what he can do.

"As well as being QPR's main creative threat, he's taken it upon himself to lead the team. In my opinion, he looks a better all-round player this term.

"Technically, Luke Freeman is one of the best players in the Championship, but he does sometimes struggle when teams overpower him or give him little room to manouvre.

"If Boro are to stop QPR playing it'll be a case of ensuring Freeman sees as little of the ball as possible."

Freeman signed a new contract last month, committing himself to Rangers until the summer of 2021.

He praised McClaren - "one of the best managers I've played under" - and talked about the Hoops going in the right direction.

But does the new deal end speculation about a possible exit or is it just QPR's way of hiking up the asking price? "In theory, Freeman's contract will keep him at Loftus Road until 2021, but with the greatest of respect I see that being highly unlikely," says Spencer.

"QPR's transfer embargo means they are unlikely to want to sell any of their players - particularly Freeman - in January when their hands are tied somewhat for signing a replacement.

"Without a new deal, that would leave Freeman with just 12 months on his contract; something which leaves QPR somewhat vulnerable to a low-ball offer for their star man - or even worse, vulnerable to losing him for nothing the following summer.

"But with Freeman signing the new deal it gives QPR the peace of mind that if any club wants to make a move for him - either in January or next summer - they'll have to stump up the money to meet what they feel is his true valuation.

"QPR fans won't thank me for saying it, but with the club under sustained pressure to balance the books, and a player who they bought for just PS350k attracting the attention of a side who are targeting promotion - it wouldn't be a surprise to see his new contract merely being a tool to maximise QPR's return when they eventually decide to cash in."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Dec 15, 2018
Words:669
Previous Article:Expecting the unexpected.
Next Article:Pulis pays tribute to Boro legend.

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