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Middlesbrough 0-1 Norwich: Best, Worst, Most Improved

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 came out on the other side of a 1-0 scoreline against Norwich, in a game of two penalties. The first, given to Middlesbrough, resulted in a goal from Tavernier that was controversially disallowed for a double kick. In the latter stages of the match, a Coulson foul lead to a penalty that Teemu Pukki slotted away giving Norwich the goal they needed to win the match.


Best: Dael Fry

Dael Fry has become increasingly impressive over recent matches with many fans stating that he has returned to the form that had made him one of the best defenders in the league. The most notable of this was his leadership and reading of the game to help to construct a very solid defence out of a squad that is short of specialists in this area, particularly since Hall has been unavailable. Alongside Fry, Dijksteel and McNair have also had impressive starts to the season that have helped to shore up the defence and prevent the team from conceding; as Norwich were only able to score against Middlesbrough after a penalty was converted by Teemu Pukki.

Former Boro captain and now Norwich loanee, Ben Gibson is also a big fan of Dael Fry, as he spoke about his contemporary in an interview with the Evening Gazette, stating “Dael, unbelievable […] His temperament, his quality with the ball, his technique, you can’t question any of it.”

Most of the details of Gibsons recollection understandably come from the time young centre back had spent beneath him in the pecking order and yet Gibson clearly indicates that he expected great things from him and that the future is still bright for the defender. Middlesbrough fans will hope that this future will be at his hometown club but with the club in dire financial straights and with persistent references of interest in the press, it would not be a surprise if the clubs hands were forced.

Many Boro fans would have accounted themselves as unimpressed with Dael Fry’s performances for the majority last season. However he has shown consistent improvement over recent months and with a consistency that has been readily applauded by fans, reporters and Neil Warnock.

Against Norwich, however, Dael Fry managed to find another gear in his game proving to be consistently superb against a dynamic attack, the majority of whom had previously performed in the premier league. One key player of note in this instance is Buendia, who some expected to have moved on from the Canaries to another Premier League club following their relegation. Yet, there was no way past the clever and calm centre back as he timed tackles, interceptions and clearances in such a manner that Norwich had few clear chances of not, with the exception of the penalty.

Dael Fry’s statistics from the match against Norwich only highlight the impact that the former England under 21 international had on the match, with his defensive influence being the most impressive component of his game. He may have only recorded 3 tackles during the match, putting him joint third in the team, but other defensive statistics prove his role to be more integral to the teams defensive performance as he was able to make a total of 8 clearances, the most with the next highest (Anfernee Dijksteel) only making 3, he also blocked the most shots, with 4, which is particularly notable when linked to Buendia’s performance as highlighted later in the article. Finally he managed all this without committing a single foul: A truly impressive defensive performance.

Alternatively Fry did struggle somewhat with is distribution, with only a 50% conversion rate, that is only highlighted by the 40% success rate of his long ball attempts in the game of which 3 were successful. However, it would be unfair to read too far into these numbers as Middlesbrough were playing against an impressive side, with his position as the second to last line of defence proving an awkward push off point to create passing moves.

Dael Fry’s performance in this game meant that the Evening Gazette claimed that he didn’t deserve to be on the losing side, which is an agreeable stance to hold and while the whole team should be proud of their performance, for the most part, and as such should feel hard done by with the result, Dael Fry would be in his rights to be at the precipice of such emotions.


Most Improved: Sam Folarin

The 20 year old winger had, up to the point of his inclusion in the squad for Norwich, been involved in little more than a few cup matches where he displayed pace on and off the ball as one of his most impressive attributes. It isn’t his only capability, but it is one readily recognised by many football coaches who also state that he is a raw player who has serious potential but has someway to go before he is polished into a final product. As such, it may have been a surprise to some that the expansion of the bench from seven to nine players would mean the inclusion of Folarin. A further surprise came to everyone as he was introduced partway into the second half over Patrick Roberts and Duncan Whatmore, who can both play the role. The intrigue of the moment was particularly interesting as this lead to Folarin’s first appearance in the league and what a team to play on your first introduction to the league.

Folarin has impressed in the few cup games that he has played and as such his name will be familiar to those avid Middlesbrough fans that take note of such performances. However his lack of inclusion and steadily increasing age meant that he may well become one of Middlesbrough’s ‘what-could-have-beens’ as he plied his trade in a lower division. However his introduction to the Championship, at the age of 20, has certainly helped to improve these odds. Intriguingly, Folarin’s substitute appearance as also his first in the English Football League as the club has yet to have sent him out on loan to gain experience as they do with many players in his age range (note Walker, Fry, Gibson), and so his inclusion is even more of a shock. Albeit, Folarin was only signed in 2019 but many would have regarded this season as key for him to be gaining experience in a lower division. However if he can show that he can play at this level, without adapting to the physicality of first team football first then that would put him in good stead to stake a serious claim to be a component of the Rockcliffe furniture for the forseable future.

In pure mathematical form it is harder to influence a game from the bench as the nature of it means that there are fewer minutes to make a difference and in this instance Folarin was given 27% of the games minutes to have an impact and many Boro fans would state that the London-born player failed in this pursuit, and it would be hard to disagree. However there were clear signs that he has the talent to be a good winger, if he continues on his development path. The most notable of which was forcing the fullback to commit to a tackle that, in the words of Neil Warnock, should have ended in the sending off of his opposite number. However, he was also unafraid to a attempt take-ons of the opposition number on a number of occasions and this is particularly impressive considering the opposition and the players current experience. Finally, while his only cross in the game was easily collected by Tim Krul, the technique used, the inside of the boot with a bit of spin could prove to be useful if he can fix the direction of these attempted crosses before his next outing.

During the 25 minutes against Norwich, Folarin managed a total of 11 passes, with a lowly 54.6% success rate and as referenced earlier he made 1 dribble and 1 cross in this time. However he managed to fire two shots at the opposition, the second best shot attempts of the whole squad and 1 of these were on target giving him a shot/target rate of 50% the best in the game. Although these numbers are small and insignificant and easily dismissible, they have been included more to indicate that he may not have had the largest influence but he made some attempts and considering the occasion did well in overwhelming circumstances.

There is certainly some talent in the pacy legs of Folarin and as long as he continues on this development path then he could well be a player that Middlesbrough fans will see with increasing regularity.


Worst: Marc Bola

Marc Bola has shown a steady improvement after his re-introduction into the Middlesbrough first team, and such improvements were notable to all Boro fans after his season to forget before hand. These improving performances have lead to Neil Warnock hailing him and his development to the press on a number of occasions. However the match against Norwich has to be regarded as his worst performance after returning to the North-East based side.

Marc Bola found himself in some promising positions down the flank during the match, which is in itself something to praise the former Blackpool player for. However it was after reaching such areas that the issues arose as his decision making and crossing (2 out of 3 crosses failed) that sometimes caused the breakdown of Boro attacks. He wasn’t alone or the worst in this field though as Tavernier attempted 5, of which 1 was successful and Saville also produced the same numbers as the fullback in question here and as such isn’t the reason for his placing in this category but instead the nuances of his defensive display.

It is true that Bola’s numbers from the match showed that he did make a defensive contribution, with his 3 clearances, the second highest in the team, the most impressive of these numbers. While making 1 interception and blocking 1 shot can be excused by how a game develops, it is difficult to reason with the singular tackle he made putting him joint 7th in the team. Further still, Middlesbrough played a man-marking system in the game against Norwich, one that is to be delved into at a later date, in this man-marking system Bola was assigned to the tricky customer Buendia. This is where he struggled most, particularly in the second half when Buendia found space in the mid-spaces, where he is the biggest threat, and as such posed the most difficult answers for the Boro defence. It is a sympathetic position for Bola to be in, of course, as he was assigned to the most dangerous member of the opposition. Equally though, it was all the more important that he stuck to his man throughout due to this very fact.

Overall, Bola wasn’t a terrible performer in a match where Boro managed to hold their own against now top of the league, opposition, however it was his minor errors against a very difficult opposing player that caused Boro a serious threat at times and as such has regrettably been included here.


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