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.
The clash between Middlesbrough and Rotherham United was seen by many Boro fans as the way to rebuild the teams home form, following two defeats at the Riverside Stadium. However it wasn’t to be as the Millers came out 3-0 winners against a Boro side that was clearly weakened by losing some of the teams star players in the weekend fixture. Dael Fry was particularly missed as the defensive pairing of McNair and Wood struggled to deal with the Millers aerial superiority.
It was clear from the early stages of the game that Rotherham were willing to sit back against Middlesbrough and challenge the North-east side to break them down, which they failed to do, only getting 1 shot on target all game. Meanwhile, without Tavernier, Warnock decided to play a narrow 4-3-3 with Watmore and Roberts playing in a free role behind Britt Assombalonga. So it was down to Spence and Bola to add width to the teams attack making the side particularly vulnerable to counterattacks, which was only worsened after the team conceded the first goal.
Finally, Middlesbrough played into the Millers’ hands with the game frequently turning into a game of head-tennis which suited the aerially dominant Rotherham who managed to win over 70% of aerial challenges.
Despite this, there were still a number of notable performances with Duncan Watmore offering a spark on the few occasions that the team were able to involve the former Sunderland player. Meanwhile, the young Nathan Wood had a decent performance despite the side leaking goal three goals.
Finally, Boro fans have had a number of understandable complaints about their current goalkeeper, Marcus Bettinelli, who has one of the worst saves per game in the league. However his commanding of the defence and the sturditiy of the players ahead of him has gone a long way to creating a defensively solid side.
Best: Duncan Watmore
The former Sunderland-man has been a revelation for Middlesbrough so far this season as he has been directly involved in a goal every other game. His direct style fits into Warnock’s tactical system and he offers a tireless energy to the wide and central attacking areas. He recently signed an extension to his contract to the delight of Middlesbrough fans who will be looking forward to seeing more of his exciting displays for the club.
He may have performed impressively so far this season in general but there has been a slight downturn in form as he hasn’t been involved in a goal in four games. This is hardly surprising however and his spark has been visible in all the games he has played during that time so there is nothing to be concerned about with this dryer period.
Neil Warnock altered his 4-3-3 formation following Marcus Tavernier’s injury, as such Duncan Watmore and Patrick Roberts were given a free role in a narrow 4-3-3 system. This allowed Watmore to drive directly at the centre backs when he got the ball, support the fullbacks when attacks came from the wide areas and frequently get into the box.
The Manchester born winger, proved to be one of the few sparks that could create an opportunity and so 3 of his passes directly created an opportunity, the most of any Middlesbrough player. Though his biggest threat came in his direct style of play as he frequently ran at the opposition asking questions of the defence in areas that could have resulted in a Middlesbrough penalty if Rotherham had made a wrong step.
However, his influence on the game was hampered by the team struggling to find the former Altrincham player and so he only had 2.5% of possession, the scent lowest in the team.
Duncan Watmore showed what he can do when he is given the opportunity to display his on the ball talents. However he was hampered by his lack of involvement in a match that Middlesbrough will want to quickly forget.
Worst: Marcus Bettinelli
Summer transfer Marcus Bettinelli has failed to find his best form at the club and the fans have grown increasingly fed up with his displays in goal. This came to a head after the Rotherham game with a number of fans calling for the player to be returned to Fulham. While Middlesbrough have been spoilt over recent seasons with the likes of Darren Randolph, Shay Given and Victor Valdes all putting on their gloves for the North-east side, which may highlight a bigger chasm between the teams current goalkeeper and the average Championship goalkeeper, there is no doubt that the player is currently performing below the standards of a typical Championship goalkeeper.
So far this season, Marcus Bettinelli has kept a total of 9 clean sheets, conceding 24 goals. However this inflates his performance in goal as the platform that a solid defence has given the goalkeeper more impressive statistics. So how would the team fair if they had a different goalkeeper between the sticks.
While the Teessiders currently have a strong defence it is a step behind the top six as five of these promotion chasers have a better defensive record. The disparity between these sides and Middlesbrough may well be in who is between the sticks as each of these sides have a better save per game ratio than Bettinelli’s 1.7. The team most impressive defensive record, Swansea City, make 2.2 saves per game as Freddie Woodman, a step up from Bettinelli, is sat behind an equally strong defensive line. Alternatively, league leaders Norwich City have conceded 21 goals so far this season and their goalkeeper has managed to make 2.5 saves per game. This shows that if Middlesbrough had a goalkeeper that could put in similar numbers as these teams then it would go a long way to bridging the gap between the two sides.
His performance against Rotherham was a summary of his time at the club so far. The first complaint addressed to him was how he failed to deal with a typical out of the box shot that should have been within the players reach. Later on he stuck a lazy leg out in an attempt to stop the ball, however he tripped the attacker instead giving away a penalty. In a situation where it would have been best for him to go in with his hands, particularly since goalkeepers often struggle to tackle with their feet. Finally he was caught out by a side foot shot between his legs to make it 3-0. Admittedly, Bettinelli lacked support from his defence in this game but it indicates the extent to which the defence comes to the aid of the goalkeeper.
Finally, it may have been due to instructions from Neil Warnock but the goalkeeper constantly fired the ball long with 26 of his 32 pass attempts travelling a considerable distance which played into Rotherham’s hands.
While Marcus Bettinelli is far from perfect he does have considerable experience and a good ability to command his defensive line. If Middlesbrough were to send him back to Fulham then they will have to be certain that they can improve on the player in what is a very tight market.
Most Improved: Nathan Wood
Youth academy graduate Nathan Wood was drafted in to start following the injury to Deal Fry and the game was set to pose a lot of questions of the 18 year old as the physicality and height of his opponents would play against some of his more questionable attributes.
The England U18 International has made four appearances for his hometown side so far this season, with his performance against Nottingham Forest in October earning him particular plaudits. Meanwhile his most recent appearance, against Blackburn in the weekend fixture, was a display of his talent and a warning shot that he may suffer from occasional lapses in concentration at times,
Neil Warnock picked Wood in a defensive pairing with Paddy McNair and they were often the two deepest players in the side as the fullbacks pushed on. His passing ability ended up being key to keeping the team moving.
The Ingleby Barwick born player made a massive 7 interceptions and 4 clearances, putting him first in the team on both accounts, showing that he has the ability to read the game even at such a young age, and he has the capability to recognise when the ball needs to be cleared away from the defence.
However it is in his distribution that he really exceeds as he made 47 pass attempts at a 78.7% success rate that would usually put him at the top of the teams pass accuracy numbers. Further still he utilised his excellent long pass ability on 11 occasions, but carefully picking when to use it and when to find the short option as an impressive 6 of these passes found their man.
There has been a lot of talk about Nathan Wood and understandably so, the player has the wherewithal to become a consistent player in the Middlesbrough side and if he continues on his current path he could well become one of the best defensive talents in the world, uttered alongside Middlesbrough legend Johnathan Woodgate.