Updated: Jan 11
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.
Middlesbrough may have felt aggrieved by the final scoreline having posed more questions of the opposition goalkeeper than Brentford did to new signing Jordan Archer. However the Scotsman conceded two goals to Luke Daniels one, knocking Middlesbrough out of the cup at the 3rd round.
Despite Middlesbrough crashing out of the cup in such an early round to their league rivals there were a number of positives to take from the teams performance as a whole while a number of players showed their individual quality during the game too. Marcus Tavernier undoubtedly sparkled the brightest as his great form continued despite the team falling to defeat. However, Tavernier has come in for praise from other media sources for his performances against Brentford and he has been highlighted on here for his abilities recently too, and so the discussion was moved to a player who’s first team opportunities have been limited so far this season, with his performance against Brentford certainly deserving of praise.
Crisis hit Middlesbrough F.C earlier this week as it was revealed that a large number of the first team players came down with the virus following non-compulsory tests. All activity at the club’s training ground was put on hold to protect those not infected with the virus. There are a number of concerns that this causes in relation to Middlesbrough’s league season. However it provided some of the talented under-23 players the opportunity to prove themselves at this level. These players made up the whole of Middlesbrough’s bench coming into the clash with Nathan Wood, who has already made a few appearances this season, and Hayden Hackney named in the starting XI. Of those on the bench, Isaiah Jones, Rumarn Burrell and Sam Folarin all had runs out. This proved to be a particularly proud moment for Rumarn Burrell and Isaiah Jones as both made their professional Middlesbrough debuts in the final moments of the game. Sam Folarin also did well in scoring Middlesbrough’s only goal of the game. Every youth academy player that played a hand in Middlesbrough’s performance against Brentford deserve the utmost praise as they all provided performances that will make Middlesbrough fans excited about their potential. Hayden Hackney in particular was on the shortlist for most improved player though he was beaten to spot by Hayden Coulson.
Finally, no Middlesbrough player was particularly terrible against Brentford and instead the ‘worst’ player category has been altered to the worst moment category to provide an opportunity to talk about the unfortunate nature of Marcus Browne’s injury.
Best: Lewis Wing
Lewis Wing has cut a controversial player among Middlesbrough fans with many complaining about his failures defensively while comparing him to the likes of Sam Morsy, George Saville and Jonny Howson in that midfield role. However, Wing is not the same style of midfielder and comparing him this way seems unfair to a player who is talented in different sections of the midfield game, though the weaker parts of his game are the ones that are most important in the combative style of midfielder that Warnock prefers to use for the building blocks of his midfield.
Lewis Wing has made 10 appearances so far this season. His most impressive performance came against Birmingham City, where his corner asked questions of the fumbling goalkeeper and an impressive shot from distance gave him a brace over the blues.
Lewis Wing was paired alongside Hayden Hackney in defensive midfield against Brentford. They were heavily involved in distribution and rotation of Middlesbrough’s play having made the 1st and 2nd most passes in the team. This proved beneficial to the way Middlesbrough aimed to play, focusing on quick turnover and transitions with the pacy three ahead of Hackney and Wing providing a direct threat to the opposition’s defensive line. This meant that it fell to Wing and Hackney to maintain the structure in the midfield and provide the passes that would push the team forward.
In playing this role, Lewis Wing’s passing statistics proved to be vitally important, and he didn’t let the team down on this front making a massive 44 accurate passes from 54 attempts, giving him a better than average pass success rate of 81.5%. Though having the 3rd best pass accuracy in the team wasn’t where his impressive distribution ended as 15 of these attempts were more risky long balls, 11 of which were successful. This is an impressive haul considering it he was only beaten in attempted long balls by Jordan Archer (who had a massive 22) and yet the Newton Aycliffe born midfielder had more successful long balls than the 27 year old goalkeeper. Once again the players importance to the team can be highlighted in his possession statistics. Lewis Wing’s 7.3% of the games possession was second only to Sørensen’s 8.1%. This meant that Wing had the second most possession of any player on the pitch and the most in the Middlesbrough team with the next closest teammate, Hayden Hackney having 5.8%.
Lewis Wing was also a threat going forward as three of his previously mentioned passes were key in the build up to a goalscoring opportunity, the 2nd most of any Middlesbrough player. While although he failed to convert his 2 shots, they posed a threat to the opposition that Brentford had to deal with as one of these shots was going goal wards.
Finally, in playing in a deeper role, there was a lot more focus on Wing’s defensive capabilities, one of the weaker sides of his game, yet he did manage to make a contribution in this area. The former Shildon player managed to win the ball in one of his two tackle attempts, and made two interceptions around the halfway line to help keep Middlesbrough on the front foot and break up Brentford’s attacking moves. Additionally, Lewis Wing make two clearances from within the box.
This match fit perfectly into Lewis Wing’s stronger attributes, as it fell upon the two defensive midfielders to orchestrate play and so emphasised his abilities and concealed his weaknesses. I am an advocate for his inclusion in the team in a more forward role, as he is currently the most creative and technically proficient central midfielder, with Warnock appearing to be unconvinced by Patrick Roberts. This is supported through the majority of his stronger performances last season coming from a No. 10 role and he there are better fits for the deeper positions in Warnock’s side. However, there is certainly a case for Wing to become a deep lying playmaker for Middlesbrough should they evolve into a possession based team if and when Neil Warnock moves on. His performance against an, albeit weaker, Brentford shows that he has the ability to do so and could do so even more effectively if he develops his tackling.
Lewis Wing was paired with Hayden Hackney in defensive midfield and there was little difference between their statistics which highlights how well the Middlesbrough youth academy player performed on his first start for the club. Meanwhile his through ball was very impressive, highlighting his on the ball prowess. If it wasn’t for his mistake leading to one of the Brentford’s goals and being slightly behind on a few statistics he would have certainly been named as the most improved player in this article.
Most Improved: Hayden Coulson
Hayden Coulson has gone from a key player to a fringe player under Neil Warnock, who has favoured Marvin Johnson and Marc Bola at left back. However the 72 year old manager has played the Gateshead born wide player higher up the pitch to varying levels of success over the season. However, he showed his worth at left back against Brentford, staking a claim to become second choice in the role behind Marc Bola.
The £1.62m valued player has made 8 appearances, including the match against Brentford with him playing just 15% the minutes so far this season. His longest flurry of starts occurred in late-Oct/early-Nov where he started against Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Brentford. He played as a winger in each of these appearances.
While Warnock appears to prefer the 22 year old as a winger, he deployed him as a left back against Brentford with many of the usual defenders unavailable due to coronavirus, causing a makeshift back line that included playing Marc Bola and Nathan Wood as centre backs, both of whom have limited experience in the role at this level. However, Coulson is very experienced at left back having made the majority of his 49 professional appearances in that position and he returned to the position like a duck to water, supporting the attack and helping to limit the quality of Dervisoglu.
Middlesbrough fans know what to expect from Coulson at left back: a defensively solid player who offers support and a threat going forward without being a marauding fullback as Djed Spence is. He certainly delivered this against Brentford. His average position during the match, on the halfway line, showed how he was willing to get forward from his deeper left back role.
The former Gateshead player made the most tackles in the Middlesbrough team, bringing attacks down Brentford’s right hand side to a halt and breaking up play in a more central area too. He also made one interception, blocked a shot and made a clearance from near the penalty spot when the team was under threat. However, this contribution has been under cut by his mistake in the build up to one of the goals.
Playing as a mobile fullback, Coulson was involved in transition making 19 passes from 26 attempts. This gave him a pass success rate that was equal to the teams average, proving him to be middling in the teams success on this front. However 3 of these passes were long ball attempts which helped to bring down the players success rate.
Finally, Coulson posed a threat going forward highlighting why Warnock sees him as capable of playing a more forward role. Two of the 22 year old’s passes were key to creating an opportunity posing him as something of a creative force that matched his direct dribbling. Hayden Coulson carried the ball on four separate occasions during the match considerably more than any other player on the pitch. This direct style also fit into Middlesbrough’s tactical plan as it helped to cause quick transitions and posed a direct threat to Brentford’s back four and as such the Englishman was also fouled once.
The revelation of Marc Bola has caused Hayden Coulson’s rise from last season fade into a memory. However he is still a very capable player and has shown just why Neil Warnock should consider him as a back up to Bola should the former Blackpool player have to be moved centrally once more or becomes unavailable.
Worst: Marcus Browne
It was an edge of your seat moment as Marcus Browne dropped to the floor holding the back of his thigh following little to no contact whatsoever. The former West Ham player had just returned from an injury and it looked as though he was going to be out of action for another long stint. Paramedics came on, stretchers came on and Marcus Browne lay almost motionless. Neil Warnock, having praised his wide-man’s recovery, performances in training and on the pitch sullenly used the break in play to check on the flanker. An air boot was inflated and Browne was transferred to a stretcher and taken off for Boro’s only goalscorer Sam Folarin.
It may have only been his third game since his return from injury but he had already made an impact in Middlesbrough’s 3-1 win over Wycombe Wanderers tucking in a goal that looked easier than it was. Then 45 minutes into only his second start of the season he fell to the floor.
Marcus Browne started the game at left wing but there was a certain freedom to the role as the trio behind Chuba Akpom playing a fluid game in order to disrupt the defence with the players popping up in each area of the midfield and attacking thirds.
Browne’s involvement in the first 45 minutes was relatively minimal, having made just two passes. However he did manage to get 3 shots off, one of which was going goal wards until it was dealt with. These numbers are pretty impressive, making him joint first despite only playing half of the match.
Early reports on the injury appear promising as it is believed that Browne’s knee-cap popped out and back in again. Middlesbrough fans will be hoping that this remains the case as early signs following his return indicated that he could have a good impact this season. On a personal note, it is awful to see a player struggle with injuries and I wish him all the best in a speedy but safe recovery. It will be great to see you on the pitch again soon.