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‘Outstanding’ Chuba Akpom has won me over, says Middlesbrough boss Chris Wilder

Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom impressed against Sheffield United (Owen Humphreys/PA).
Middlesbrough’s Chuba Akpom impressed against Sheffield United (Owen Humphreys/PA).

Chris Wilder admitted Chuba Akpom had won him over since returning to the Middlesbrough squad at the end of pre-season after the striker’s first goals for the club in more than a year secured a 2-2 draw with Sheffield United.

Akpom scored in each half as Boro twice came from behind at the Riverside, with his goals cancelling out a first-half strike from Sander Berge and a second-half own goal from Ryan Giles.

The 26-year-old spent last season on loan at Greek side PAOK and looked to have no future on Teesside when he was excluded from the Middlesbrough squad that began pre-season training in late June.

However, he was restored to the fold ahead of the club’s final pre-season friendly with Marseille, with Wilder now adamant he will not be going anywhere this summer.

Wilder said: “It was a difficult situation for Chuba when I came in, and a difficult situation for us. But he doesn’t need to worry about anything else now, because he’s going to be part of us going forward.

“He was outstanding and the attitude to his game was great. He could, and possibly should, have come off at half-time because he was having treatment, but he wanted to stay on. His individual performance was very good and his goals were great.

“He had to be dragged off the pitch and that’s what I’m looking for. The supporters are looking for that. He’s part of it and he has to keep that going.

“The only problem with Chuba is that he’s had about 300 different Football League clubs! Let’s hope he stays here a bit longer, but that’s down to him. He had to convince me, I’m not going to beat about the bush. But he’s done that.”

Berge scored Sheffield United’s opening goal, driving home after turning neatly close to the edge of the area, and the Norwegian has been the subject of mounting transfer interest in the last few weeks.

The Blades have turned down at least two offers for the midfielder from Belgian side Club Brugge and, while further approaches are anticipated, Paul Heckingbottom is hoping the Bramall Lane hierarchy continue to hold firm.

Heckingbottom said: “We’ve had offers for players through the window and they’ve all been knocked back. That’s been the message from everyone at the club and I’m grateful for that.

“If Sander continues scoring in every game and doing this, that and the other, then someone’s probably going to pay the number that I don’t want them to pay. But then there’ll be nothing we can do about it.

“Sander’s played in the Champions League and we paid a lot of money for him. He wanted to come here to play in the Premier League. Sheffield United signed a good player, but I think what you’re seeing now is probably a different dimension to his game.

“He came as a six, having played a bit deeper for his national team, and generally he would burst forward with the ball.

“As the season wore on last season, and now, we’re trying to get him higher up the pitch when he’s receiving the ball.”