Match Preview: Middlesbrough vs Blackburn Rovers
The arrival of Blackburn on Sunday also means the return of Tony Mowbray, Middlesbrough fan, former player and coach who could name former Middlesbrough players and youth academy graduates Aynsley Pears and Stewart Downing in the starting eleven. These players may not be given a formal warm welcome by the Middlesbrough faithful but clubs supporters will be happy to see their return. Though the Boro faithful will be happier about their return if it comes with the bittersweet feeling of seeing their hometown win.
The performance against Nottingham Forest appeared to be a return to their best following Middlesbrough’s defeat to Birmingham City where they looked out of sorts with some pundits arguing that it was the sides worst performance so far this season. Neil Warnock appeared to be pleased too. Speaking to the press following the end of the game he indicated that he hopes that they will use the performance on Wednesday to push on to a winning run and that winning run would start at the Riverside Stadium against a Blackburn Rovers.
There have been some growing fractures in the Blackburn camp with a growing annoyance from fans over Tony Mowbray’s performance this season. The Saltburn born manager inadvertently piled the pressure on himself claiming that this could be the season of big things and, although it isn’t impossible that big things may arrive at the midlands club, its growing increasingly unlikely with the club sitting in 12 place at the halfway point.
Season so far:
The blue and white team have struggled to earn the points that they desired from this season. Issues of positive covid cases and injuries have only hampered this problem further with the rotating door of defenders coming in and out of the team preventing any consistency in the back line leading to a lack of structure and frequent misunderstandings. This has equated to the 28 goals that the team has conceded so far this season.
While the defence has posed a prominent issue this season their attack has been considerably more impressive as the top scoring side in the league. Despite the team managing to score an impressive 39 goals so far this season they still sit in 12th place, thanks to the cracks in the defensive foundations that the impressive attack is built upon.
In other seasons, the number of goals that the side has scored and their standing in the league would have been enough to satisfy Rovers fans, but this isn’t those other seasons. Head Coach Tony Mowbray has entered his four campaign at the club and the fans will have expected more from him in that context with the side appearing to stagnate. So the teams 1.3 points per game so far this season has proven to be less than impressive for the fans.
Following the extreme downpour in midweek, Rovers match against Swansea was postponed, and so their last 5 games take them back to 26th December against Sheffield Wednesday. Their form over this period has been solid but not spectacular with the side losing 2 of these games, drawing another 2 and winning just one. While the one point per game presents a respectable return, it is not the type of form that the team may need if they have aspirations of being promoted in this, or upcoming seasons.
The extreme downpour in midweek lead to the postponement of Blackburn Rovers game against Swansea City, yet in the last 5 games that Rover have played in they have managed to earn a point per game. The biggest highlight of this run was the win against Birmingham City, following goals at both ends of the match, while two draws against Stoke City and Sheffield Wednesday added the other points to make it a point a game. This inconsistency in recent form is shaky ground for the team as there season at this point could go any way, they could find the formula to get on a winning streak, they could start a losing run thanks to their defensive issues and tumble down the league or finally remain in this middling form and remain around mid table for the rest of the season. Two of these three options could be considered as unsatisfactory for the fans and could well mean the sacking of Tony Mowbray.
Comparison: Middlesbrough vs. Blackburn Rovers
It comes as no surprise to any Middlesbrough fans that Blackburn Rovers have been more prolific than the Riverside Stadium based side as they managed to score 39 goals to Middlesbrough’s 30, with their open play finishing particularly superior. Though, intriguingly, Middlesbrough have created similar big chances, despite having far fewer shots, indicating that Blackburn are willing to pull the trigger on site rather than open up opportunities. This methodology is currently working for the blue and white side and frustrating this side of the game may be to Middlesbrough’s benefit.
The final score between Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers will be the most important comparison that can be made as whoever is victorious is the team better team, yet the two sides statistics so far this season offer an interesting insight into what fans can expect from the conflict.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that Blackburn Rovers have been more prolific so far this season netting a total of 39 times with Middlesbrough finding the net 30 times. The attack minded philosophy of Mowbray has payed off with the side managing to get an extra two shots on target per game despite almost being on par with Boro for big chances created.
The offensive prowess of Mowbray’s side will not concern Warnock as much as it would other managers as he is at the helm of one of the best defensive sides in the league. The Teessiders are ranked joint 6th for clean sheets, conceding just 20 goals which will be the envy of Rovers’ fans having seen their own net ripple 8 more times. The difference is best shown in a per game format with Middlesbrough conceding 1.2 goals to Blackburn’s 0.8. Alternatively, some may look at Blackburn Rovers’ number of clearances and successful tackles as an indication that the side is actually defensively resolute if they can remove individual mistakes. While individual mistakes have played a part in Blackburn’s defensive issues, these stats are also misleading as tackles are often considered to be the last resort, with Paolo Maldini stating, ‘if I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake,’ and so Blackburns higher tackle rate is a symptom of their defensive issues. The same can be said for the teams clearances as it’s clear that the team has been ‘under the cosh’ a lot so far this season resulting in quick clearances, which are good actions as an individual but indicate that the team was penned in.
Interestingly, one of the biggest signifiers as to whether Middlesbrough will come out of the game as winners lays in the possession stats as the Warnock lead team struggles when they have 50%+ possession and their quick transitions are no longer an option. However it appears that this will not be an issue for the team as it appears that Blackburn are a possession based passing team which will suit Middlesbrough.
Top Goalscorer: Adam Armstrong (16)
Most Assists: Harvey Elliot (7)
Most Yellow Cards: Bradley Johnson (6)
Most Red Cards: Darragh Lenihan (1)
One to watch: Adam Armstrong
Attacking talent is one thing that Blackburn aren’t lacking, though 17 year old Harvey Elliot and former Newcastle United forward Adam Armstrong are the crown jewels of the prolific side, with Armstrong edging the teenager in importance to the Rovers’ side.
Adam Armstrong’s goalscoring record speaks for itself. The 23 year old has scored 16 goals so far this season which would be considered a career high seasons haul for most strikers and yet there is still half a season to go. So it comes as little surprise to see Premier League interest in the striker with West Ham currently leading the charge. Yet it is unlikely that any of this interest will result in a move as they may fail to meet the value that will be slapped on the players forehead with the Venky’s well-known for being hard to bargain with. The teams head coach, and former Middlesbrough player, Tony Mowbray will certainly hope that they can keep hold of the player through the January transfer window as his strike rate of 1.3 games per goal could mean that he would finish the season with a very impressive 35 goals, almost the same number that the whole team has racked up so far this season. This would also prove to be beneficial to the Venky’s as such form would encourage bids and hike up his price.
The striker does more than finish too, as he has made 17.3 passes per game. His involvement in the teams build up play may not sound impressive at first but it is substantial in comparison to Britt Assombalonga and Chuba Akpom’s 7.9 and 7.4 respectively, as such he does more than just finish, as he is involved with the style of play that Mowbray has imposed on the side.
To return to his goalscoring, Armstrong’s form heavily effects the teams performance with him scoring in every game that the team wins. While he has only score in one of the teams losses and none of their draws. So being able to stop the joint top goalscorer from getting into his stride would go a long way to overturning the Rovers.
Manager: Tony Mowbray
The Blackburn Rovers manager needs no introduction as he is a beloved figure in the North-east following his time at the club both as a player and a manager. While the fact that the 57 year old has shown his support for the side, having grown up, and continued to, support his hometown side.
Born in Saltburn, Tony Mowbray started his playing career at Middlesbrough in 1982, impressing with his sturdy defensive presence as he went on to make 348 appearances for the Teessiders netting an impressive 26 goals, thanks to his aerial presence. He then moved to Celtic for £1m in 1991. He would go on to make 77 appearances during his time in Scotland, scoring 5 goals for the team in green and white. The final transfer of his career, to Ipswich in 1995, lead to another 128 appearances until he hung up his boots in 2000. For those who haven’t kept count, Tony Mowbray had 553 professional club appearances.
Two years later, the defender returned to football but as the interim boss of Ipswich Town, he would be bitten by the managerial bug after his short stint in charge of the tractor boys and would find more permanent work in the following years. He would take charge of Hibernian, West Bromwich Albion, his former home, Celtic, his boyhood and beloved club, Middlesbrough, Coventry City and then finally Blackburn Rovers.
The manager may be under scrutiny at Blackburn but he has shown that he is a talented manager. I hope he can turn it around at Rovers, though after Middlesbrough face his side, and if he cannot then I wish him the best in whichever endeavour becomes his next project.