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.
Middlesbrough’s performance against Preston was far from Boro’s best performance this season and Neil Warnock will be hoping that Boro will perform better in upcoming games to prevent the rot from setting.
Best: Marcus Tavernier
Marcus Tavernier has come in for a lot of complaints this season as he has been less effective than many Middlesbrough fans expected, and this is an indication of the talent that the dynamic midfielder has. Despite being just 21, many fans look to him to be a consistent attacking threat. The inconsistency that has had an impact on his performances this season, is something he needs to work on but at such a young age, he still has quite some time to amend this issue.
Although Middlesbrough struggled to put a mark on the match, conceding the first goal of the game, in the 62nd minute, meant that Boro needed a change. Despite the overall lack of squad depth at the club, the bench included a number of attacking options that could have been brought on that this point. Chuba Akpom, Patrick Roberts, Lewis Wing, Sam Folarin, Hayden Coulson and Isaiah Jones have all played in an offensive position at some point in their careers. Yet, the man that Neil Warnock calls upon in this time of need was Marcus Tavernier. This highlights the appreciation that Warnock has for Tavernier’s abilities and his belief that he can offer the team something different going froward while maintaining a defensive line in midfield.
Marcus Tavernier may have been introduced to the game for the injured Jonny Howson, but he didn’t play in the defensive midfielder role left by the 32 year old. Instead he played as one of the central midfielders, in an attempt to improve the dynamism and movement in the central areas, which had been lacking with the former pairing of George Saville and Sam Morsy.
He only had 29 minutes to make an impact but make an impact he did. Marcus Tavernier made 4 dribbles, the most of any player Boro player. He also made 1 key pass, during his short appearance, showing that he posed a threat that had been lacking up until his inclusion in the team. His only shot of the game was the closest that Middlesbrough got to hitting the net, although it would have been a mere consolation at that point in the game. He also helped the team to maintain possession in offensive areas with his pass success rate of 87%, second only to Patrick Roberts who only had 10 minutes of game time.
As a rule of thumb, picking a player who was introduced as a sub as the best player isn’t ideal but Middlesbrough’s performance was far from ideal too, with little going forward and a defensive collapse in the second half. One of the few instances where the game got exciting from a Middlesbrough perspective was when Tavernier was afforded space in attacking areas. He proved to be a real threat when few others were and as such deserves to be called the best player of the match.
Worst: Duncan Watmore
There were a number of poor performers that could have been highlighted in this match, the two most prominent of which were Bettinelli and Assombalonga. Having recently highlighted the issues with Bettinelli, it was unfair to throw him into the mixer once more. Meanwhile Britt Assombalonga did make a few promising runs in the first half and the major issues in the team against Preston were in the transition from midfield to attack and the teams unusual defensive struggles in the second half, as such calling Britt Assombalonga the worst performer seemed unfair in relation to the issues that plagued the team in this match.
Duncan Watmore is currently blowing hot and cold. He appeared to have adjusted to the pace of competitive football once more, against Swansea City, as he scored an impressive and clinical brace. A brace that won Middlesbrough the game. However his performance against Preston North End is one to forget for the former Sunderland wide-man.
Swansea struggled to deal with Watmore in the free role he played in, as his movement made him hard to track and mark, as a result he had a very impressive performance. Perhaps, it was the change in role against Preston that caused him to have a less effective performance. Starting in a wide right role, Watmore had a fair amount of possession in the wide area as 5 of his 23 touches came in this area. However, he also moved into more central areas, so to free up the space for Djed Spence, as shown by his heat map. The primary aim here was to offer a more direct and central threat to the defence that has leaked goals in recent weeks. Duncan Watmore’s success in this area would have shown in key passes and shots over dribbles and crosses. Meanwhile close control is also important as this area is often more congested, particularly if the fullback pulls in with him.
In Watmore’s 66 minute appearance, he managed a single wayward header and a single on the ball run, which is a stark comparison to the numbers put up by Tavernier. This shows how limited his threat was but his overall attacking game is more concerning as he showed poor control in 5 separate instances, which prevented attacking moves from coming into fruition and caused the turn over of possession. Comparing this to Marvin Johnson’s 2, highlights how the attacker struggled in this stat.
He also only made a lowly 6 passes, 12th in the team, showing that he found himself in few positions with the ball, a serious concern as one of the key players when it comes to connecting the midfield to the attack.
There is no doubt that Watmore has some serious talent and an extension to his stay at the club would definitely be celebrated by most fans. However as with many players, he will have good performances and bad ones and unfortunately this one can be chalked up as the latter.
Most Improved: Djed Spence
This is a controversial call. The 20 year old was part of a defence that leaked 3 goals and he didn’t turn up with a vital cross or shot that helped to save the game, as the team failed to score whatsoever. Yet there was a marked improvement in his performance in comparison to the match against Stoke City.
Djed Spence has struggled to find his form of old so far this season, with a growing sense among fans that he should be removed from the starting XI as his performances haven’t earned him the role. If Neil Warnock had a deeper squad, particularly at right back, then he would, in all likelihood, been dropped to the bench by now. However as the only auxiliary right back available, following Dijksteel’s injury, and the clear failure of Coulson in the role means that there is little choice in that position. While, his performance against Preston wasn’t a return too old, it was a reminder of some of the talents he has at his disposal if he can exercise them properly.
In the article about the Stoke City game, the idea that Spence needed the freedom of the wing to exercise the full extent of his abilities was presented, and while he remained in a right back role, with a wide midfielder before him, he was given more freedom than usual, particularly in the first half as Watmore moved into central areas.
In the attacking areas he provided 2 key passes, joint highest with Morsy and Roberts, which is an impressive feat from his defensive starting position and is an indicator of how exercising the full length of the pitch is to his benefit. His biggest influence, though was in transition as he was set up to drive towards the opposition from deeper positions which proved key in preventing the team from stagnating in midfield as it did for the majority of the game, with the little movement in central areas of the pitch.
Djed Spence’s influence on transition is also seen in his distribution numbers, as 27/31 of his passes were successful, giving him a pass success rate of 87%, the joint second best pass success rate in the team with Marcus Tavernier. Of these passes, 4/5 of them were long balls, once again showing his influence in attempting to stop the midfield from stagnating.
Finally, he made 2 tackles and 1 interception defensively, showing that he was an influence in the defensive third but not at the same level as the centre backs or Marc Bola at left back.
Djed Spence’s performance was shadowed by the poor performance of the team and defence as a whole, but there were moments in the first half when he looked to be the player that drove Middlesbrough forward.