This series highlights three of Middlesbrough’s performers from the last game indicating which of those players deserves praise. Points at a player that could be on an upward trajectory and one that will be hoping for a better performance next time out.
Best: George Saville
Middlesbrough were brilliant in the match against Birmingham City and so there were a number of prominent candidates for the best player of the match accolade. Britt Assombalonga was very active moving forward and his movement went a long way to getting the four goals, one of which is chalked next to his name. Lewis Wing, playing in the number 10 role, provided creativity that has been lacking in the team for a long while, helping to get the best out of Assombalonga. The two centre backs were as confident and capable as always, showing steady incremental improvements that are starting to make them the strongest centre back pairing in the league. Finally Dijksteel managed to limit the pacy and technically proficient Bela despite only being 70% fit.
However, it was George Saville that deserved serious praise for his performance against Birmingham City.
George Saville cuts a divisive figure for Boro fans, with some praising his tireless work ethic and defensive nous, while others see the number of fouls he commits and his lack of offensive guile as cause for concern. However regardless which side of the debate, it is inarguable that Saville has had a really good upturn in form recently. As a key member of a midfield that often looks to break up the play and collect second balls. While the match against Birmingham included this side of his game he added a little extra going forward adding another element to his game.
There has been some confusion about the role that Saville played against Birmingham due to his activity moving forward. In actuality, Saville was playing as part of a defensive midfield pairing with Sam Morsy, as shown by him aligning with the Egyptian when in the defensive set up, with Wing central between the two more offensive wingers. Despite this being his starting place, Saville was urged forward by the manager, frequently finding himself around Wing’s No. 10 role, as well as frequently making runs into the box. This box-to-box role was permitted thanks to the brilliant defensive performance of Sam Morsy.
The most important part of his performance, as a midfielder, was his distribution. He was able to make 18 successful passes, from a total of 29 attempts. This success rate of 62.1% isn’t particularly high but it was average for the game as he was placed 5th in the whole team. He also played a role in the teams quick build up play, having succeeded in almost 50% of his 7 long ball attempts. Perhaps the most fitting statistic that presents his involvement in the build up was his personal possession, at 4.1% he had more of the ball than any Boro player from the defensive midfielders forward.
Saville was once again involved in the defensive side of the game, making a total of 3 tackles, the second most in the team, which is considerably higher than the average midfielder. He also made 1 interception and a clearance as he stepped into deeper roles to strengthen the defensive line when needed.
As aforementioned, George Saville also added to the attacking side of his game, making a total of 3 shots, at a 66% shot accuracy, and also added to the goal tally in the process too. The Northern Ireland International, also carried the ball forward, on two occasions, being a driving force that is sometimes lacking when the role isn’t exercised by Paddy McNair.
George Saville had an outstanding game against Birmingham City. He was involved throughout the pitch and contributed one of the four goals that helped to overturn the blues.
Middlesbrough did outstandingly well against Birmingham City, showing Boro fans that it is possible for a Middlesbrough team to convincingly overturn an opposing team. While Middlesbrough weren’t brilliant in the early minutes and conceded a goal. It would be unfair to give anyone this accolade, in this instance, considering the scoreline and the teams performance.
Brilliant team performance:
Most Improved: Lewis Wing
Lewis Wing has become something of an enigma at the football club recently, having found himself on the fringes of the first team after being heavily involved in the previous season. Many Middlesbrough fans were unconvinced about the midfielder at the end of last season, thinking of him as a non-league player who was out of his depth. This, at least by recent form, is an unfair comparison. The former Gateshead midfielder was a raw talent when he joined the club, however he has clearly improved over his time at the club and become a more rounded player, to the point where managers felt comfortable using the player as a defensive midfielder, where the more weaker elements of his game come to the fore.
While Wing has made 9 appearances so far this season, the vast majority of them were as a substitute and so it is hard to make a real judgement on his form on the pitch so far. However the fact that he has had little involvement up until the Birmingham game is an indicator of how Warnock views the 25 year old.
Lewis Wing was deployed in a No. 10 role, behind Britt Assombalonga, playing this role limits the defensive requirements on Wing as he sometimes appears suspect in positioning and tackling, as one of the major concerns about his overall game. He did, on occasion, move back to deeper positions however to augment the defensive midfielders when they needed it. Furthermore, playing as a No. 10, Wing is in the best place to exercise his best talents, his on the ball technique, whether it is shooting, nuanced passes or close control in tight areas. This position could be the home of Lewis Wing in the future.
Playing as a number 10 means that his primary aim was creating opportunities, as such he had a lowly pass success rate of just 36%, with a 50% long pass success rate, which is pretty high and indicative of his on the ball ability. Meanwhile, he also found himself out wide at times, from which he attempted 2 crosses. The most prominent part of the attack, is the end result though and he certainly succeeded here, sending a corner into the box, that questioned Etheridge’s goalkeeping abilities, ending with him fumbling the ball into his own net, which has recently been credited as Wing’s goal. Finally he produced a very impressive long range finish to complete Middlesbrough’s romping of Birmingham City.
He also contributed defensively, making 2 tackles and a clearance showing that he can still contribute in this area despite his questioned ability in this range.
Fans have pointed towards Patrick Roberts to add creativity to the midfield, but many have pointed that this would disrupt the combative cohesion of the midfield. Perhaps Wing is the perfect balance between injecting some creativity into the team while also remaining defensively sturdy, as such, it may be worth considering involving him in the team more often in the near future.