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: Anfernee Dijksteel
A number of Middlesbrough players could have been awarded Boro best performer against Luton Town. George Saville was impressive in committing to the defensive side of midfield throughout the game, helping to break up Luton’s advances and helping to turn them into a timid threat. However, he was lucky to have not earned himself a yellow card when his 5 fouls started to stack up. Marc Bola had another solid display at the left back position, with a showing that is spades away from what was seen from him in the previous season. Dael Fry continued to be as solid and impressive as always at the heart of defence dealing with almost everything that came into the box, resulting in him making 6 clearances, far more than the next best with 3. Finally Chuba Akpom ended his goalless run by tapping in a simple finish that was pivotal to Middlesbrough’s win, but more on that later.
Anfernee Dijksteel was sorely missed following his injury in late November, as it coincided with a considerable drop in form for Middlesbrough, losing 2 and winning 1 of the three games without him. So his return to the team, was massively appreciated and proved to help shore up the defence, resulting in two Middlesbrough wins against Millwall and Luton Town.
Dijksteel has played at centre back and right back so far this season. Most recently he has occupied the right back role, as he did against Luton Town, with Middlesbrough starting in a 4-2-3-1 formation. His primary focus was remaining defensively solid as the high turnovers and intense pressing by both sides meant that any failures in this area could have lead to Middlesbrough conceding. He did occasionally get forward, and his efforts in this regard during the later stages of the match were greatly appreciated.
Despite his defensive solidity, he only put up 1 tackle and interception. In this case, however, this is praise to the defence as he was rarely under threat by the opposition during the match, as Middlesbrough successfully kept Luton at arms length down the right hand side. It is also important to note that this was Luton Town’s weaker flank, with the 21 year old loanee Norrington-Davies, who played 62 minutes on this side, is primarily a left back. Meanwhile Cornwick, one of Luton’s more talented players, spent the majority of the game down the right. All the same, Dijksteel could only deal with the personnel that faced him and he did that with great success.
Meanwhile Dijksteel had the 7th most pass attempts in the team, which is relative to the amount of possession he had. Unfortunately, his pass success rate left something to be desired as only 56% of his 25 pass attempts were successful. However, this doesn’t tell the full story, as 13 of these pass attempts were long balls, with the opposition frequently getting to such balls first, turning it into a game of head tennis. The 23% success rate, indicates Luton’s success here, more than Dijksteel’s failure and his long pass attempts proved to be important. These long distance passes helped to move the team up the pitch to put pressure on the opposition. A fixture of the game that grew more important after Akpom scored his goal as it relieved pressure from the defence.
The extent of Dijksteel relieving pressure on the defence doesn’t end here, though, as he made 2 on the ball runs, one of these, occurred after the Middlesbrough goal, helping to drive back the opposition and give the defence a few moments rest. Further still he was the most fouled player in the Middlesbrough team, which was a result of Dijksteel drawing the foul to break up the game and alleviate pressure following Middlesbrough’s goal.
Dijksteel was an impressively solid player in the match against Luton and it is clear to see why we missed him after his injury. However the most impressive component of his game, which put him ahead of the rest, was his ability to alleviate pressure and give the defence a break, whether that was through on the ball runs, drawing fouls or long passes. It was this side of his game that proved key, particularly with Middlesbrough playing with a man down.
Worst: Duncan Watmore
According to most statistics ratings, Sam Morsy was the worst player against Luton, after being considerably marked down for giving away a penalty and getting a red card. This is where statistics have their limitations. There was some disputing the penalty decision by expert summariser Neil Maddison on BBC Tees and certainly, the red card seems incredibly harsh, with Neil Warnock stating that the club may applying to get the red card rescinded. Due to this, it would be unfair to name Sam Morsy as the worst player as it would be an injustice to the questioning of the decision.
Alternatively it is incredibly harsh to give this accolade to Duncan Watmore, who’s impressive recent form shows how tireless his efforts are and how impressive he can be. Ultimately his average display against Luton wasn’t a problem with his personal performance but more a symptom of the nature of the game.
There was a lot of excitement about Middlesbrough starting Watmore and rightly so, as he has scored 4 goals and got an assist in just 7 matches, but due to the nature of the game he was found moving deeper in order to be involved in the game as the No. 10 role was suffocated by the high turn over and defensive structure of Luton Town’s 4-2-3-1.
He is typically given some freedom in this number 10 role with Tavernier and the former Sunderland player swapping and fluctuating in and out of the wide and central areas. However, as Middlesbrough struggled to make more than 3 passes in a row, there were few opportunities where this movement was a viable option. Instead, Watmore spent a little time on the corner of the box, and in deeper areas of midfield but his lowly 9 touches show his lack of overall influence on his heat map.
His lack of involvement is clear to see in his statistics too as he had a mere 0.6% possession, the same as the substitute Lewis Wing and the only players who had less were Djed Spence and Britt Assombalonga, the other substitutes. Further still, he only made 4 attempted passes, with a 50% success rate. Offensively, his contributions were also almost nonexistent with him being fouled once. Finally he made a single defensive clearance.
Duncan Watmore’s inclusion here is not due to a poor performance on his behalf but instead the frustrations of a player in a role that has been bypassed for the majority of the game. He will, in all likelihood bounce back from these low numbers.
Most Improved: Chuba Akpom
Chuba Akpom’s barren run has come to an end! There had been growing complaints and worries about Chuba Akpom’s ability to score at this level, having gone 13 games without a goal. A recent best, worst, most improved stated that he was a talented player who needs to get off his barren run as soon as possible and this has, at the very least, punctuated a long and dull stint that the former Arsenal player has had in front of goal. Akpom, though, will be hoping to turn this goal into a run of goals that will help to fire Middlesbrough back up the table.
The match against Luton was a return to a more involved Akpom, with him frequently moving out wide to support the winger. This happened most frequently down the left hand side, as this was the main focal point of Middlesbrough’s attack against Luton. He also had a role to play defensively too, as Middlesbrough frequently pressed Luton, often lead by Akpom, which was important in going toe-to-toe with the opposition. Ultimately, though, his main role was to lead the line and score goals, which can be chalked down as a success in this instance.
Akpom has faced recent complaints after failing to make the most of opportunities that came his way, particularly as they are usually few and far between. This was the case against Luton. Chuba Akpom had 1 shot and scored 1 goal, as clinical a performance as Duncan Watmore in recent games. It is important to also praise his movement in the lead up to the goal, as his run, when Tavernier was dribbling towards ‘D’, pulled the centre backs away and gave Johnson enough space to pick out the right pass that resulted in a simple finish for the 25 year old.
There were other elements of his game that weren’t particularly impressive, such as his lowly 45% pass success rate but it is important to celebrate the ending of his goal drought, with the hope that it can extend into a promising run of form.