Updated: Nov 11, 2020
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: Jonny Howson
Up to this point, Jonny Howson hasn’t been named in any of these feature and that is indicative of the 32 year old. He is so consistent that his work in midfield fades into the background like the humming of a radiator, playing an important function but in such a way that he is sometimes overlooked.
His role in the team has been deepened over recent years too, becoming a leader, as he has grown into one of the most experienced player at the club; providing a great role model for upcoming players that effort and team work are paramount, and perhaps even more so under Neil Warnock.
As indicated above, Jonny Howson is Mr Reliable, wherever he is played and whatever he is asked to do, he will do it with the best of his ability and with all the effort he can muster. So when he was introduced to a new role by Neil Warnock, there was no question that the former Leeds player would be 100% committed to it. The role, as the deepest midfielder, meant that there would be a growing focus on his passing range as Warnock highlighted him as a Lynchpin, allowing them to turn defence into attack rapidly. His experience also came in handy in this role as he has grown an understanding of the game and as such is able to read opposition attacks and position himself to disrupt and break up their offensive moves.
Jonny Howson also managed an impressive output against Nottingham Forest making a total of 40 passes, with 2 of those being long passes (out of 7 attempted), a slight downside to this though was his total pass accuracy was a lowly 55%, but this is perhaps indicative of the types of passes he attempted during the game as he tried to feed the ball to the wingers whenever possible.
Most Improved: Nathan Woods
After jokingly being included in worst performance, on his last appearance: playing as a striker in the dying minutes of the game. A position that he has never played before in his life. It is suffice to say that whenever his next appearance was, he would be a major contender for the most improved category. However, a very impressive display from the young centre back sealed his place in this category, with first league start to remember. In fact he was so outstanding that he was also a serious contender for Best player, however, with the caveat of his previous inclusion and wanting to allow space for further growth, he has been included here.
This young talent has been getting plaudits from within the Boro set-up for quite some time and he has hinted at his talents in a few short displays over recent years as he has flirted with the first team from such a young age. He is still a youthful prodigy now, at only 18 years old, but if not for a few concerns, he could slot into the first team permanently at this point.
Neil Maddison spoke about the players talents on BBC Tees before the match kicked off, explaining that he was a player in the mould of a modern centre back, someone that could distribute at all lengths throughout the pitch with consistent accuracy. He also explained that, unlike some ball-playing defenders, Wood had not focused on his passing at the behest of his defending, instead he had become an equally competent defender. One concern, however, was whether he could deal with the physicality of the match, as like Dael Fry, he has a relatively slight frame and a lot has been said about the step up in physicality from youth to professional level.
In terms of physicality, Nottingham Forest are one of the better teams for Wood to have faced for his first start in the league as their attackers don’t have the same intense physicality as an opposition such as Cardiff City. However, you can only deal with the challenges that you face and in Woods terms, he managed to cope with Nottingham’s physicality with ease and even indicated that he had some pace to boot, as he was able to move from centre back for the fullback area to put pressure on the oppositions wingers, when needed, with relative comfort. Despite this, it may be wise for him to be excluded against more physical sides until he adjusts completely to the nature of professional football.
Anyone who disagreed that Nathan Wood performed well against the tricky trees could point towards his 1 interception and tackle as an indication that he was rarely involved with the game defensively. However this would be decidedly unfair as he notably took over the role of the missing Dael Fry in making 5 clearances, without which the team would have been in serious trouble on a number of occasions. He also put his body on the line in blocking a shot, which ultimately could have meant that Middlesbrough came away from the game with nothing.
Neil Maddison’s prediction that Nathan Wood, would contribute to Middlesbrough’s overall passing play was proven to be correct, as the 18 year old had a pass success rate of 70%, from which he made 23 passes, putting him 5th and 7th in the team rankings, a respectable return for a first outing. However his most impressive distribution was in his long passing with 3 of his 5 long balls successfully finding their target, meaning that he had a long pass success rate of 60%; the best in the team by a considerable margin (the next highest being 43% [these stats also exclude Marvin Johnson who only played 14 minutes and only made 2 long pass attempts).
Distribution: 23 passes (7th), 70% success (=5th), 5 long balls, 3 successful, 60% (1st).
Neil Warnock arraigning for the team to applaud player who have a phenomenal match is quickly growing symbolic of the managers man-management skills and as recognition of players that have performed past expectation. So it should come as no surprise that Nathan Wood received such a reception after the Nottingham Forest match, which just indicates the level of performance he had shown.
Worst: Britt Assombalonga
Due to other circumstances there are a number of articles that are currently in the works and have been delayed past when I initially hoped to have them released. One such piece is based upon Britt Assombalonga and his relationship with the Middlesbrough fans and how he is seemingly strongly disliked by some and admired by others. Wherever you stand on the argument, it would be hard to ignore the fact that the DC Congo International struggled against Nottingham Forest.
Neil Warnock decided to set his team out in a 4-3-3 against Nottingham Forest. Hayden Coulson made his start of the season playing on the left of Boro’s top goalscorer since 2000, and Marcus Tavernier lining up on the right hand side of the striker. This caused Assombalonga a few issues as his track record at the club indicates that he performs best with another striker or a central attacking midfielder whom he can play off, as such he looked isolated at times, with Tavernier becoming the main attacking focus for the team when in and around the box. An extension of this was that Tavernier consistently made inward runs, an attribute of the young versatile player that makes him a serious threat from the wings. However, Assombalonga struggled to adjust to this at times, as he appeared unsure and stagnant when Tavernier made such runs. He also looked uncomfortable when he filled in for either of the wide players, when they had shifted inside during an attacking move showing a lack of versatility that could have been beneficial in ensuring the fluidity of the attack, considering each of the attacking trio had considerable pace.
The most glaring of reasons for Britt Assombalonga’s involvement in this category, came in a singular moment towards the end of the first half, with an unconvincing attempt on goal. Britt Assombalonga deserves some praise here as he seized onto a wayward pass from Nottingham Forest to put him in a 1-on-1 situation with the goalkeeper. However he slowed down at this point, with the ball still rolling from the mishit pass and the goalkeeper closing him down. As referenced in my post-season review, Assombalonga struggles when he has time to consider how to finish an opportunity as he is more of an instinctive finisher. He looked almost lackadaisical as he fired the shot directly at the goalkeeper, with only the pace of the shot forcing the goalkeeper to parry the attempt. Had his finish been more convincing, and had turned into a goal, then Middlesbrough would have gone in at the half time break with a goal to the good.
He was also short in terms of his overall attacking output during the game too, as the shot referenced above was his only attempt, and he failed to make any key passes or dribbles during the 70 minutes that he featured against Nottingham Forest. This is perhaps indicative of Assombalonga’s struggles in the tactical system, that he was just having a poor match, as every footballer has on occasion, or that he was suppressed well by the oppositions defence. However he will be hoping to improve from this appearance next time out.