It is no secret that Middlesbrough failed to meet supporters expectations this season and in turn fell into a battle for Championship security so this review will not go into great depths on the teams failure in this regard as Boro fans are more than aware of this issue having had to watch their club dwindle at times during the season. Instead it will focus on patterns running through the past few seasons to try and work out how Middlesbrough ended up falling to 17th place and it will look into how we can use this data to turn the tide for the incoming season.
It appears from the massive drop in position between 18/19 to 19/20, that Middlesbrough’s fall was abrupt and completely left field. However, like a collapsing bridge, the cracks were beginning to appear in the side under Tony Pulis who managed to keep the team up the table through his particularly good coaching during this period.
Middlesbrough’s home form this season has been nothing short of abysmal as they would have found themselves in 21st place if these games alone counted. Form that would have gotten Middlesbrough relegated. This is no secret to Boro fans who have been made all too aware of our lack of home points this year. However what might surprise them is the fact that Middlesbrough have failed to make the Riverside Stadium into the fortress that it was in the promotion season under Karanka. In fact, they would have finished 14th in both of the 17/18 and 18/19 season, if only home games counted. They also shared the same placing for away games, 6th, despite the fact that one year Middlesbrough got into the playoffs, and the next they did not. This shows that Middlesbrough have had some serious problems with home games since their relegation. It would be wise for the club to work on this issue as turning the home form around could go a long way when it comes to turning Middlesbrough around.
It is also no secret that Middlesbrough have been lacking in front of goal this season as they scored the fewest goals in the league with a measly 46, which equates to a goal every game.
Out of Middlesbrough’s 47 big chances this season (opportunities that have a high chance of being converted), they failed to convert 42. Showing that Middlesbrough’s finishing has clearly been below-par. However, it would be harsh to pin all the blame of this issue on the strikers, as it is clear that the team also failed to create many chances of note as they had the 5th worst shots per game ratio in the league with 3.4 and Middlesbrough sat 15th in the ‘big chances’ table showing that the issue is far more complex than a few out of form or poor strikers.
Furthermore, this is an issue that plagued Middlesbrough in the previous season, as the team only scored one more goal that season. This shows that it has been a long standing issue that needs to be ironed out sooner rather than later.
There are a few reasons behind Middlesbrough’s attacking situation. The loss of key players such as Adama Traore, Stewart Downing and Martin Braithwaite caused a massive creative gap that Middlesbrough have yet to find the right personnel to fill. Despite signing the likes of Marcus Browne and so a drive to hire some replacements in these areas wouldn’t go amiss.
Meanwhile Tony Pulis’ defensive style and defensively focused coaching team, lent towards Boro’s failure to replace these creative players. The Welsh coach recognised Boro’s lack of attacking talent and he tried to bring in a number of players, mostly on loan, none of which ended up signing. This could have been for a number of reasons, however one theory is that as attacking players, going out on loan to a defensive-minded team didn’t appear very attractive and so they moved elsewhere, preventing that creative gap from being filled.
The answer to this problem sounds simple: Middlesbrough need to find wingers, creative midfielders and strikers in the transfer window. However if we can take anything from our hiring last summer, it should be that it isn’t always that easy.
Any Middlesbrough fan who has watched the team under Karanka and Pulis will be all too aware that Middlesbrough have had one of the best defences in the league in recent years. However this collapsed this season as they shipped an extra 20 goals more than they did in the season before and this was the big difference that has caused Boro to drop down the league.
The back line was heavily rotated this season with a confidence lacking Dael Fry being the only consistent name in the line-up. This alone limits the teams consistency. However Boro also rotated between three and four man back line that was occasionally peppered with out-of-position midfielders, which further impacted on the consistency and capability of Middlesbrough’s defensive component.
Furthermore, with the likes of Ryan Shotton and Daniel Ayala moving on; there are now more holes in this area to fill. Holes that the likes of Grant Hill will be trying to fill next season.
Ultimately, it will be hard to find the perfect answer to this drop of defensive form. However Neil Warnock is a manager who is known for building defensively secure teams and so it seems that Middlesbrough are in good hands. The key contentious issues here will be finding the right players for the right price in a compressed market and then finding and keeping our best defensive line-up.