It was expressed in the article building up to the match against Brentford that Middlesbrough were the underdogs in the clash and that proved to be the case as the side slumped to a 4-1 defeat. However the scoreline is unfair to the sides performance as they held their own and threatened Brentford’s defence on a number of occasions during the game. However the side failed in two key aspects. The first was the lack of clinical touch in front of goal. The side had a number of opportunities but they failed to convert any of these into goals (their only goal of the game came due to an own goal from Brentford goalkeeper Raya). The second key aspect was the goalkeeping which has been a concern for many Middlesbrough fans this season. The side has faced the fewest shots on target of any side in the league and yet they have been conceding at a rate that is just better than an average sides defence, indicating that there has been some failures in the sides goalkeeping.
That isn’t to bring down the undoubted talent in Brentford as they were simply the superior side on the night particularly in the final third. In fact the abilities of the opposing teams squad highlights the stark comparison between the two sides: up front Britt Assombalonga has scored just 5 goals so far this season to Toney’s 20 and Raya looked confident and in control of his box and goal throughout the game while Bettinelli unfortunately did not. Of these two players, it was the defensive issues that have been a larger concern at this moment in time and so Bettinelli has been named as the worst player of the match.
Meanwhile new signing Darnell Fisher appears to be going from strength to strength as he adjusts to consistent football after a couple of weeks out with Preston. It was his performance against Brentford that earns him the man of the match award. Finally, Neil Warnock spoke about the need to get minutes into Bolasie’s legs after the match against Norwich and it appears to have proven to be beneficial as the player that showed glimpses of his ability as the new signings were thrown in the deep end.
Best: Darnell Fisher
The former Preston player made his debut away to Norwich City where he impressed everyone by tying himself to Cantwell to the English wingers frustrations. The game against Brentford was his home debut, a milestone that would have been more important had there been fans in the stands energised by the excitement of seeing the new player don his boots for the Teessiders. Yet it was still important for him to start well both home and away and he managed to do that against Brentford.
Fisher had been playing well at Preston North End and so his fee of just £300,000 seemed like a steal for the side in red and white and he has started his career at his new club in similar fashion. He earned the Sky Sports man of the match last time out for the defensive prowess he displayed against Cantwell. The broadcasters punditry joked about him even following the player when he was subbed off in the second half. The Norwich player also saw the funny side of the battle when he took to Twitter. This display showed Boro fans exactly what they were going to get from the player and it showed them exactly why Neil Warnock wanted the fullback to join the club.
Anfernee Dijksteel’s return to the side may have been seen as a surprise to some Middlesbrough fans though it was a tactical decision that was predicted in the transfer window summary article. The dutchman played in centre back replacing the injured Dael Fry and newbie Darnell Fisher started in the right back role.
Many fans may question why a defender has been named as man of the match since the side conceded four goals to the second placed side. Yet the sides failure defensively was not due to but instead in spite of the full backs defensive actions. The 26 year old made the more tackles than any other player on the pitch as he managed to steal the ball away from the opposition on 5 separate occasions. While he also put his boot through the ball on two occasions to clear the danger and put his body where it hurt in blocking one of Brentford’s shots.
Meanwhile he offered a serious threat going forward. Finding himself in attacking wide areas he crossed the ball when he had the opportunity with an impressive 3 of his 4 crosses finding a teammate. This 75% success rate isn’t only the best of any player in the side, including the new wingers, or the most crosses from any player that found an attacker but also the best of any player on the pitch, including those playing for Brentford (excluding the 1 for 1 of Rico Henry). His three key passes for Middlesbrough also ranked highest in the side.
Darnell Fisher was at an advantage over the rest of the sides January signings as he has played football the most recently and so it was expected for him to settle into the team first. So if Fisher is anything to go by then the other new players could prove to be great additions too.
Worst: Marcus Bettinelli
Middlesbrough fans have had complaints about their loanee goalkeeper all season and the 4-1 defeat to Brentford was no exception to the rule as the ball found its way past the Fulham man on four separate occasions creating the misleading scoreline. These complaints have rounded into a call for the player to be returned to his parent club. This is a harsh call though as this article will show, he is a decent player but he remains beneath the level of goalkeeper that has gotten the top six teams into the positions they currently hold. Meanwhile there is still a serious possibility for the goalkeeper to improve his game in order to bridge this gap but time is running out for this change to occur.
Middlesbrough’s official social media platforms recently celebrated Marcus Bettinelli’s success in keeping 10 clean sheets so far this season and his performance against Norwich was relatively solid as the side didn’t concede against the current league leaders. However this is misleading as Middlesbrough’s defence has been formidable so far this season protecting Bettinelli in goal. They have been so successful at their job that the side has conceded the fewest shots on target per game in the league. Yet the side has managed to conceded 28 goals. Alone this sounds relatively positive as it is the joint 6th best defensive record but their defensive security should have the side placed within the top 3 defensive sides which proves that there has been a failure in the goalkeeper role.
Dael Fry has been a key component to Middlesbrough’s defensive solidity this season and so when he was excluded from the side due to injury, it turns to those left to try and make up for the loss. This is a near impossibility as the player has had a brilliant season and so Bettinelli was given an even harder job against the side that Warnock had recently dubbed the best side in the league and so he deserves sympathy for the situation that he found himself in.
Bettinelli’s ultimate failure came in the side conceding four goals particularly but the details of his actions leading up to the goal show that it isn’t that simple. He can be excused for his actions in the first goal as the referees made a number of questionable decisions leading up to the 2-on-1 situation with the goalkeeper. It was also highly unlikely that he would have been able to stop the outcome at that point. However he did make it easier for the visitors by pressing the man on the ball instead of staying on the line as if he had stayed on the line then the attacker would have had to make a decision between passing and shooting, a decision that Bettinelli made for him, and not in a good way, leaving Toney with an open goal to hit. If he had asked the question of Fosu when he broke the line then it could have given the Boro defenders a chance to catch up which would allow them to put up more of a fight against the goal. However even if he had stayed on his line chances are that the outcome would have remained the same. On the other hand he has to be called into question for his actions leading to the second goal. His starting position when the cross came into Toney was pretty good and it gave him a good chance of coming off on top had he shot. Instead he set up Janelt on the edge of the box. Bettinelli did little to readjust his positioning and so he left too much of the right hand side of the goal open. While the technique and the accuracy of the shot from Janelt was good it should have been within Bettinelli’s means to comfortably save the shot. However, is positioning left him with too much to do as he stretched to reach the shot. He can be excused for the third goal as he attempted to do as much as he could to prevent what was an undeniable goal. Some fans may point to him falling as a mistake however this was more due to the intelligent actions of Jensen who recognised that quick and sharp changes of direction would cause the player to slip and fall over on the Riverside pitch. Then there was the fourth and final goal. This stretch of play started with a great save from the 28 year old as he palmed a shot onto the bar. However it came back into the box and then came the scrappy goal. It is clear to see what the player is trying to do here by jumping and making himself big he wanted to increase his chances of making any sort of contact with the headed shot from Toney and he succeeded in making contact with the ball too but it just wasn’t enough. The only complaint here is whether he could have recovered from his initial save a little quicker and moved back onto the line where he would have had more time to make an attempt to save the shot, however it would be unfair to ask that from the goalkeeper.
Comparing Bettinelli to the opposition’s counterpart highlighted one of his biggest weaknesses, his inability to command his box as Raya was far more comfortable making the white outlined box his own than Bettinelli was coming to collect crosses and freekicks and creating an aura of goalkeeping strength that will have an impact on those trying to get the best of the player.
Finally, it is no secret that Warnock wants his goalkeepers to play the ball long but this tactic has been growing increasingly ineffective with only 29% of Bettinelli’s passes finding a teammate. It may be time to mix the goalkeepers distribution to make the most of McNair, Bola and Dijksteel who may be able to pick out more accurate long passes from their more advanced angles.
The first frustrations over Bettinelli’s performances have been a consistent gripe for Middlesbrough fans and it has got to a point where some fans are calling for the player to be returned to his parent club. However this would be wholly unfair as the player has shown that he is a talented goalkeeper and he didn’t play over 100 games for his previous club for no reason. However Middlesbrough may look at this position as one to improve in when next season comes along as if the club was targeting stability or mid-table in the league then he would be a very positive signing but if the club wants to look for promotion or, if they succeed in their endeavours this season, a goalkeeper that can keep them in the Premier League then they may need an improvement on their current No. 1.
Most Improved: Yannick Bolasie
If Bolasie continues to build on his performance against Brentford then there will be a growing sense of ‘what could have been?’, if the side had succeeded in getting the players paperwork completed before the summer deadline. However there is no point speculating over the past as there is still a large amount of game time that he could affect between now and the final whistle on the 8th May.
The loanee from Everton made his debut against table-topping Norwich where he managed to play 56 minutes before he was pulled off for Chuba Akpom. His first game for the club was relatively uneventful as he gets back up to speed following a long time on the sidelines. Yet there were flickers of the technical ability that has allowed him to participate in the top division in English football for the majority of his career. Although he also started against Brentford there is no doubt that he was still struggling for match fitness as he was pulled off in the 81st minute despite being one of the sides brighter sparks.
Neil Warnock recently joked about Middlesbrough becoming the DC Congo ‘youth’ team as four of his first teamer’s share the same nationality and the Sheffield born manager decided to deploy them all against Brentford. The most notable inclusion was the Congolese front three of Kebano, Bolasie and Assombalonga. Of these three Kebano and Bolasie started out wide with the pair often switching wings in an attempt to give their apposing fullbacks something different to contend with. So the average positioning of both players, in the middle of the pitch, is more due to them swapping sides rather than holding a narrow position.
The early post-match reaction presented the view that Middlesbrough had created more opportunities against Brentford than they had in any game so far this season. Whether this is accurate or not, one thing is for certain, Middlesbrough’s new hires have to be considered key to the sides chance creation against Brentford. Darnell Fisher’s influence has already been mentioned, Kebano’s early cross lead to the sides only goal but it was Bolasie who offered a more consistent threat. The player made the most crosses in the side as he sent 7 balls into the box, although none of these were met by a Boro head it showed the players intent going forward. Intent was also the word as the player aligned with Warnock’s direct football in making 6 dribbles in the wide areas, particularly on the left wing, posing a difficult question of his opposing fullback in 1-on-1 situations. Ultimately the side lacked a cutting edge and that could be seen in Bolasie’s play too as despite hitting the target with both of his shots he failed to find the back of the net.
Middlesbrough may well be concerned about the players distribution though as only 52% of his passes found the desired target meaning that one of every two of his passes resulted in a turnover of possession.
To finish on a positive, Neil Warnock recently explained the unfortunate situation surrounding Patrick Roberts failed loan at Middlesbrough and the biggest hindrance to his lack of game time was how he wouldn’t track back. This isn’t a concern with Bolasie though as the Congolese International was heavily involved in defending Middlesbrough’s goal as he made 2 tackles and 2 clearances in his 81 minutes of game time, putting him high in the sides defensive tally.
Middlesbrough signed 3 potential wingers in the winter window but Bolasie has had longer to settle into the side and that was clear to see in his improved display against Brentford. If he continues on his current trajectory then he could have a serious impact on the sides successes before we originally anticipated.