The dust has settled on Middlesbrough's win against Preston North End presenting the perfect opportunity to name the sides top performer, one that was most improved and one that could have done better
A controversial and dramatic first half, which saw a red card was distributed to Alan Brown, ended with Alex Neil being sent to the stands. The gesture was ultimately nothing more than symbolic as the manager was able to command his team from higher in the stands, discuss tactics with ongoing players and make his presence and opinions known to his backroom staff. The only limitation placed on the Preston manager was the need to shout a little louder to command his side. Though, the moment he was sent off encapsulated a dramatic and controversial half in a single moment. Due to the red card to Alan Browne and the own goal from Jordan Storey, the game was all but Middlesbrough’s as they controlled the majority of the second half.
Best: Grant Hall
It has been an unfortunate season for Grant Hall as he has rarely featured for Warnock’s men thanks to him sustaining an injury. Yet he has always impressed when he has been involved and has constantly looked solid at the heart of the defence and this game was no different.
Hall has returned and quickly settled into the side and he has started a good relationship with Dael Fry that has seen the pair concede just four goals in five games, during a stint that saw them face both Swansea and Cardiff City.
Hall returned to the side to play as a part of a defensive three as Warnock aimed to solidify his defence following a below average run but the match against Stoke City saw a change to this system that was carried through into the game against Preston: pushing McNair into midfield and playing as a centre back pair. This has been successful so far as the duo complement each other and by adding defensive experience and a previous captain in Hall to the heart of defence with Fry has helped the pair control the game.
Middlesbrough may have commanded the game in the second half, removing much of the threat to the heart of defence, Hall still put up some impressive defensive numbers, most notably, he made 4 interceptions, the most in the Boro side as he read the game and actively prevented passing moves from coming to fruition, one of Fry’s weaker components in the game as he made just 1 interception. Alternatively, Fry beat him in clearances removing the ball from danger on 4 occasions to Hall’s 2, showing how the pair complement each other in the heart of the defence. In this instance, Hall was slightly more integral to the teams defensive success as he put his body on the line in order to block a Preston shot.
The pair can distribute the ball pretty well too, allowing more forward players to feel comfortable playing the ball back to either of them when needed but again Hall was superior in this instance. Grant Hall attempted the joint 3rd most passes against Preston with three in every four attempted passes finding their man. Fry, on the other hand, also had an impressive output with 42 pass attempts and a 70% pass success rate but it was not as good as Hall; equally, Halls 12 long balls with 6 finding their target was also better than Fry in this case.
Presenting these statistics comparatively with Fry highlights the complementary relationship that is growing between the pair with each passing game and keeping this pair together may well see the fruit of their Labour ripen into an impressive on the pitch relationship that could be the bedrock for a promotion push next season.
Worst: Sam Morsy
Often considered Mr. Consistent by Neil Warnock, the Egyptian combative midfielder has put in a number of impressive performances over recent weeks after hitting a very impressive strike when the side lost to Swansea and controlling the midfield a few weeks before that, and he had a half-decent game against Preston. So why is he in this category? Lets consider his role and his numbers first.
Neil Warnock has recently changed his sides formation returning to a 4-3-3 that had been used by the side on a number of occasions this season and, in this system, Sam Morsy plays the part of the central midfield pair with Jonny Howson behind him. This makes the most of his energetic performances allowing him to break up the opposition’s attacking moves early to spring a counter attack. He was brought off the field at half time to be replaced by Marcus Tavernier.
His defensive influence on the game was a little underwhelming even when only playing 45 minutes as he failed to make a single tackle or interception during the game. On the other hand, he was very good at keeping possession of the ball when he found himself in possession as 89% of his 19 pass attempts found their intended target, the sides 3rd best pass success rate. He also attempted a single shot in his 45 minute appearance in a red shirt.
While his output wasn’t exactly impressive, it wasn’t terrible either and his pass success rate is impressive even when only attempting 19 passes, but it was his conduct that lead to the games red card that meant he was named here.
As an advocate for fair play, I was disappointed to see Sam Morsy throw his hand back, striking him in the face. This may well have been an unintentional action but that didn’t appear to be the case at the time and it was this action that provoked Browne into committing the foul that earned him the red card. Ultimately, Middlesbrough has struggled for the rub of the green this season as referees frequently make the wrong decisions that have cost the side a number of points. However it is important that we encourage proper conduct in the side as the idea that we win fair or not at all should ring true in all teams across the country and the world and as such we would have a more meritocratic world of football.
I must stress that I am all for a good strong tackle but there is a difference between ‘letting them know your their’ and trying to provoke a reaction from an opposing player in a disingenuous attempt to get him sent off.
This was just one incident where it appears that Morsy has done this in a whole season and the player has done a good service for the side so far this season. I have a lot of time for the player but this was just an incident that didn’t sit well with me.
Most Improved: Marcus Tavernier
A recent report came out that placed Marcus Tavernier 3rd in the top under-22 players in the Championship, which comes as little surprise to most who have had the fortune to see him play this season. The younger brother of high-flying Rangers captain James Tavernier, the Englishman has begun to carve out a career in his own name that has the potential to compete with his older sibling for whose is most impressive.
The 21 year old has been unfortunate with injuries this season as his introduction at half time indicated his second return from injury; yet the side always looks more impressive when he is involved as he adds a driving force through the midfield that is simply lacking when he isn’t on the team sheet, as such it was great to see him return to the side and consequently get himself a goal.
His offensive influence is clear to see in his output as he attempted 2 shots during his 45 minute return, one of which was on target and a goal. He also contributed a key pass to the side moving forward as he helped to create opportunities for Warnock’s men.
He managed to get on the ball with the player making 30 passes with an impressive success rate of 83%; the majority of these passes came in the opposition half too as he moved the ball about the pitch to try and find a way past the defensive line and as such didn’t attempt a single long ball. Yet he was the most effective crosser in the side with both his balls into the box finding a Middlesbrough man and so presenting opportunities for the men in red. It was in this area of the pitch that he was most impressive adding a dynamic and creative figure to the side as Middlesbrough pushed on to find the goals to sink Preston and improve their goal difference.
It is great to see Marcus Tavernier return to the fold and he looked bright and sharp during his 45 minute appearance indicating that he may have an increasing role to play between now and the end of the season.