New Blue in profile: Coulson was rated a £10m player not long ago
- Credit: PA
Hayden Coulson has become Ipswich Town’s 14th summer signing. STUART WATSON profiles the versatile Middlesbrough youngster.
After progressing through the Middlesbrough academy ranks, featuring in the UEFA Youth League, Coulson played some EFL Trophy games for the club's U23s in 2016 and 2017.
His first taste of proper men's football came in 2018 when he joined Scottish Premier League side St Mirren.
“This is a big move for me because I’m a family boy and still live at home with my parents,” he told the Scottish Sun.
“It’s my first loan so I’ve got to make the most of it. Coming up here is a stepping stone towards where I want to go.”
He added: “I played for England at Under-16, Under-17 and Under-19 level. I played alongside Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold on my international debut in Ireland and he’s gone on to do well.
“I played left-back for England but I’ve also been used as a winger by my club. So I’ve come here to get up and down that left flank and get some crosses in.”
He told the Paisley Daily Express: “I’m quick and agile and I like dribbling with the ball a lot. I prefer playing higher up the park, but at left-back I feel as though I can still get up and down.”
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Coulson’s debut came in a League Cup game against Kilmarnock. It went to penalties and he scored in the shootout as St Mirren progressed.
A few rounds later, Coulson netted in a 6-0 thrashing of Dumbarton.
Football Paradise.com reported: “Coulson gave another glimpse of his potential, smashing the second-minute opener and coming close to a second after rattling the post.”
Manager Alan Stubbs said: “He needs to make better decisions but in terms of potential he’s got a lot.
“If we want him to go to where we think he can, there’s certainly aspects of his game he needs to tidy up.”
Stubbs was sacked as manager in September and Coulson’s loan spell was subsequently cut short.
On January deadline day that same season, Coulson joined relegation-battling League Two side Cambridge United on loan.
U’s manager Colin Calderwood said: “Hayden has a good delivery, good speed and can dribble well with possession of the ball. He adds competition to the wide areas which allows us to make changes to personnel whilst maintaining pace within our front line.”
The Cambridge News reported that the 20-year-old 'caused an instant impact after coming off the bench, despite being deployed slightly out of position on the right side of midfield’ following a 1-1 draw with Oldham.
Calderwood said: “I think you can see we're on the edge of something really exciting when he gets the ball. He has pace and a nice bit of aggression about him.”
Coulson ended up making six starts and eight sub appearances for the U’s as they beat the drop.
Coulson returned to Middlesbrough and his former youth team boss Jonathan Woodgate was soon made first team manager. He sensed his chance.
The Middlesbrough Gazette reports that Coulson was ‘unquestionably the star rookie in the summer friendlies’.
He subsequently started the Friday night televised Championship curtain-raiser at Luton, a game that ended 3-3.
“The gaffer told me a few days before that I’d be starting just so I could get my family down to watch,” he said. "I thought I did well.”
Coulson retained his place for the following home fixture against Brentford (a 1-0 loss), but suffered a frustrating quad tear which sidelined him for 10 weeks.
Woodgate kept the faith. After working his way back to fitness, Coulson was a regular starter from end of November up to the season being halted due to Covid in March.
After Coulson signed a new three-and-a-half year deal in the December, Woodgate said: “I’ve always had a lot of belief in Hayden. He’s an example to the young players in our academy and we believe he has a great future at this football club."
On that deal, Coulson said: “It’s massive, it’s all I’ve ever wanted growing as a kid - being a professional footballer.
“It’s been a great season for myself so far so I just need to keep going. You’ve always got to back yourself with what you can do.
“The gaffer has helped me so much. I’ve just got to stay level-headed and just keep playing football really.
"I’m still establishing myself as a first team player and I think that’ll take a few years. You can’t really say you’re a first team player after one season. I’d say you’ve got to play 100 games-plus.”
Boro finished the season in 17th place. Coulson, having made 21 starts and nine sub appearances, was voted the club’s Young Player of the Year.
There were even national reports that Newcastle were ready to make a £10m bid.
CONVERTED BY WARNOCK
Woodgate was sacked towards the end of the 2019/20 season and replaced by Neil Warnock.
Coulson started a Carabao Cup defeat to Barnsley towards the start of 2020/21, but after that found chances limited under his experienced new boss.
After coming on late against Barnsley in October, Warnock said: “I tried Hayden further on today. He’s been so good in training.
“I did think at one stage, when Patrick Roberts didn’t arrive, about playing him in the hole. But when he told me he’d never played there in his life, I thought it might not be the time to gamble.”
When Coulson was given three successive starts at the end of the month, they came as a wide left forward. Boro scored just once in those games though (1-0 home win v Nottingham Forest, followed by 0-0 draws at Blackburn and Brentford).
Coulson was given a shot at left-back, for a 2-1 FA Cup defeat at Brentford in January, but in general found himself behind Marc Bola and Marvin Johnson in the left-sided pecking order.
Then, as the season was coming to an end, an opportunity presented itself.
When captain Sam Morsy went off injured during the first half of a 1-1 home draw against Watford in April, Coulson came on and played as a central attacking midfielder.
“He looked like a rabbit in the headlights for the first five minutes, but after that he revelled in it and was a breath of fresh air,” said Warnock.
“He’s the best player at the club in training in those tight situations with bodies around him so we thought why not give him a go at number 10.”
Coulson started the last two games of the season in that role – a 1-1 draw at Luton and 3-0 home loss to Wycombe - as Boro finished 10th.
So then, what’s Coulson’s best position?
A recent piece on the Hartlepool Mail website stated: “Fans enjoyed watching Coulson in his first season, and his attitude was repeatedly praised by former boss Jonathan Woodgate, yet it was never clear what his best position was.
“Coulson started the season as Boro’s left-back, yet there were always question marks over the defensive side of his game.
“The player’s best performances under Woodgate came as a winger or a left wing-back, yet Warnock has preferred Marvin Johnson in those roles, and signed three new wide players during the January transfer window.
“Against Luton, Coulson played in a more central position and, despite being praised by Warnock afterwards, didn’t look entirely comfortable there.”
Speaking back in 2019, Coulson himself said: “I’d say left wing-back suits me down to the ground because you’ve got the opportunity to go forward but you’ve also got the defending side as well. But I love going forward.”