Middlesbrough fans went into the match against Bristol City with high expectations after the Teessiders put on two very convincing displays against Reading and Huddersfield Town but the side looked a shadow of its former self. Middlesbrough will be looking to bounce back from their below-par performance against Cardiff City but this article will discuss which two players came out of the game with their reputation completely intact as it would be unfair to lay blame on a single player for what was a teams failure.
Statistics are a very valuable tool in the tool kit for anyone involved in the footballing industry but they can also be misleading as they fail to take into consideration many of the factors that can only be considered when watching a game and this was the case with Middlesbrough’s game against Bristol City. While most fans watching the game were in despair over the issues that plagued the defence, the statistical rankings out two of the back three in the top 3 best performers for Boro against Bristol City.
Alternatively, Marc Bola appeared to be unaware of the failings of the side in general as he continues to adapt to a position which many thought would be beyond his means and Neeskens Kebano ignited his creative flair to try and pull the side up into a situation where they could come out of the game with something, even if he could have done more defensively. Another player who deserves praise for his performance is Marvin Johnson who came on in the latter stages of the game and offered an offensive threat and it was his cross that led to the sides only goal.
Finally, Dael Fry deserves some praise for ending his goalless duct with the club as he found the net with the sides only goal of the game, which was ultimately just a consolation goal. Hopefully this will be the start of Dael Fry as an offensive threat as well as a very good defender.
Best: Marc Bola
It is astounding how far Marc Bola has gone since he signed for the club almost 2 years ago, coming in from the cold at the start of the season and becoming a key player for Neil Warnock this season in replacing Hayden Coulson. The 23 year old appears to improve with every week. Many fans will remember when he played a similar role to the current left wing back position under Woodgate and his positioning and backtracking were a cause for concern but he has shown that he is far more comfortable in this role than he was a year ago and even performed better in this position than his counterpart on the right, who came in for criticism after the Bristol game.
He has really begun to settle into this new role and even found himself in the perfect position to score a rifle of a shot into the top corner of the goal against Reading and his performances so far in this role deserve a serious amount of credit.
The former Blackpool fullback started the game as a left wing back and so his instructions were to supply the width for Middlesbrough going forward and remain a defensive presence. However this role changed in the second half as Warnock switched formation to a back four and Bola took over a fullback role that will have been familiar to him, having held the position for the majority of the season.
Obviously even when playing as a wingback, Marc Bola has to be included as part of the sides defensive line and so the 23 year old will always be considered to have some part of the blame here and certainly his defensive output against Reading doesn’t make for a very positive read as the player made just 1 interception. However it is important to consider the nature of the Robins attack as the majority of their attacks quickly transitioned from the right flank to the central areas, preventing the left wing back from having too much involvement. All the same, the player could have made more defensive contributions but it is important to remember the nature of Robins’ play prevented limited his opportunities.
On the other hand, Marc Bola integrated himself in the sides build up play making a solid 62 touches with 5% of the games possession, considerably greater than the right wingback counterpart. He attempted 33 passes during his 76 minute appearance. The players pass success rate of 84.9% was 4th best in the side and so helping in the sides build up play. He was also willing to cut out the midfield process too as he was successful with both of his long balls.
Finally the most impressive element of his performance came in the final third where he frequently found himself in crossing positions and obliged to send balls into the box once he did with the player making 9 crosses.
Only one of these crosses found a Boro head but this says more about Middlesbrough’s lack of aerial presence going forward than it does about the quality of ball from Bola as many of these crosses could have asked challenging questions of the Bristol City defence. Ultimately, many fans return to the instance early in the game where the player chose a ball across the front of the goal rather than having an attempt on goal himself and while this is a valid criticism and picking the other option may well have lead to a different result, it is unfair to pin so many expectations on a single instance as failures across the team lead to the result.
There is an art to finding the balance between attack and defence, it is an issue that plagues some of the most talented fullbacks in the world but it appears that Marc Bola has gotten pretty close to levelling the seesaw on the left hand side for Middlesbrough.
Most Improved: Neeskens Kebano
The Fulham loanee came in for some criticism following the final whistle on Tuesday with expert summariser accurately indicating that the player failed to take defensive responsibility in midfield. However this is not a new progression or digression from the midfielder as he has shown the same traits over the two games before Bristol City too and so there has to be a reasonable expectation on the behalf of the other midfielders that this was to be the case against Bristol City in essence limiting the blame attributed to the player.
The former Genk player has scored one goal for Middlesbrough so far during a collection of bright performances. The player has taken a starting role in the team since his arrival trumping the currently injured Yannick Bolasie and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to the spot indicating that Warnock values what the player brings to the table.
The side lined up in the same set up that had brought the success against Reading and so Neeskens Kebano played alongside former Sunderland player Duncan Watmore behind Ashley Fletcher. However the unfortunate injury led to a slight change with Watmore sharing his time between a joint striker role and the role alongside Kebano and moving into the second half the joint striker role with Chuba Akpom to precedence. This meant that Kebano was moved into a central role behind the pair where he was expected to pull the strings and provide the sides creative influence.
The other players in the side frequently aimed to pick out Kebano when he was in the free role behind the strikers as they are aware of the talents that the player can bring to a game and so he unsurprisingly had the most possession of the attacking trio. He made an impressive 108 touches during the game and so he attempted 28 passes in his 66 minute appearance with almost 90% of these passes finding the intended target showing his impressive passing ability. Meanwhile the player was not afraid to have a shot but unfortunately both of his attempts failed to hit the target and instead he looked more threatening from the 5 crosses he attempted from the wide left position, although none of them found a Middlesbrough head.
While his statistics do not set the world alight, his ability could help unlock defences in the future. Boro’s only goal may have come after he left the field but the side generally looked less of a threat without his presence in the final third of the pitch. Middlesbrough’s attacking moves became predictable as play moved out wide in an attempt to get the ball into the box and failing that it would be recycled around the midfield and defensive line before attempting the same thing once more. Meanwhile Kebano’s movement and ability to find space between the lines had previously added another dimension to the attacking build-up.