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.
Well, this is a bit awkward. In my post-season review I stated that the 25 year old will be hoping to move back into the centre of midfield for the coming season, seen as though that is his traditional role and the one that he excelled within last season. However he has started the season back at centre back and he has had some excellent performances in the role. In fact it has been hard to look past the Northern Ireland International for best performer in almost every game this season.
When asked about Patrick McNair, Kevin Blackwell noted how impressive he had been indicating that he would perform well wherever he played and perhaps in his current role they have found a way to merge his ability as a midfielder with that of his defensive sturdiness as he often carries the ball forward into midfield, utilising one of his best attributes, and helping to overload the midfield area with more dynamic movement that has been massively lacking in the Middlesbrough team for years.
While the 6ft versatile player has taken a number of free kicks during his time at the club, they seemed to have recently come on in leaps and bounds, creating a number of dangerous crosses from deep; one of which was recently converted against Bournemouth, and he continued to be a threat from such situations against QPR when one cross went agonisingly unconverted as Assombalonga was caught in an offside position. He also proved he has more dead ball specialism in him against QPR as it was his excellent cross that provided Akpom with his first Boro goal.
All Middlesbrough fans should be excited to see what comes next from the man who has been capped 36 times for Northern Ireland.
Most Improved: Dijksteel
Another player that is quietly going against the grain of my post-season review, Dijksteel has looked like a completely different player at centre back and has really begun to earn his place in the Middlesbrough squad and although he was part of an unstable defensive line, that shouldn’t cheapen his performance as he was active in preventing a number of seemingly open situations from turning into goals for QPR.
These instances included a last minute tackle against Chair as he was encroaching on the 18 yard box and ready to pull the trigger. A last minute block to a goal bound short in the 44th minute and he also parried a QPR player from tapping in the ball when Dael Fry put his body where it hurts to clear the ball away from the line.
Had Dijksteel not actively interrupted any of these instances then Boro may well have finished the game having not added any points to their tally.
There was also a moment in the QPR game when he indicated what he could do should he be drafted into right back once more as he marauded forwards with the ball offering an interesting dilemma that the QPR defence had to deal with. Unfortunately for the Dutchman it came to nothing and there was no one covering the space he vacated, allowing QPR to quickly counter. However it is a promising sign that he could once again don that role should Middlesbrough need it of him.
Every Boro fan appreciates the talent that is Djed Spence. However to maximise his talent, when the team is in possession, there needs to be a defensive structure around him that will allow him to drive forward without concerns defensively. Dijksteel has shown himself to be very capable of such a role, moving further away from the other two centre backs to be able to cover both the central area and the area vacated by the speedy Spence. His experience in controlling and subduing attacks down the oppositions left flank, when he played as a right back, was also a massive help to Boro’s defence as one of the notable differences as to why the left hand side of the defence struggled more against QPR’s thriving wide-men.
It goes without saying why Dijksteel has earned his praises as the most improved player in this game as he has gone from a fallible and struggling attacking fullback to a player that almost singlehandedly saved Boro from conceding a goal on a few occasions.
It will be interesting to see if he can continue on this trajectory as he adjusts to his new role in a new team and the back line begins to jell together. If does do so then he may prove to have been an astute signing after all.
It is notably harsh to name Marcus Bettinelli as the worst Boro player as he didn't have anywhere near a disastrous performance during the QPR game and he had to deal with a number of attacks as the stats show that he and the defence had to face 14 shots from the opposition.
However he never looked a little uncomfortable at times during the game and for a player who was brought in from Fulham as an experienced goalkeeper, that would be the least you would expect.
The biggest moment of contention for the 28 year old came as he parried a shot from Amos that lead to QPR’s goal. The shot in itself wasn’t particularity fast or difficult to contain and so many expected the goalkeeper to be able to hold onto the ball rather than putting it straight back into a danger zone.
He also came out for a cross that he either misjudged or was taken away from him by the strong wind. If it is the latter then he can be indefinitely excused for this dangerous incident, but if not then it is a moment of great concern as a player with his experience should be able to judge the trajectory of incoming crosses.
I wasn’t personally in favour of bringing in a new keeper. However the decision to do so made completely reasonable sense as the club has suffered since they lost Randolph both through injury and his transfer to West Ham and bringing in another Randolph like signing could have helped to flip the trajectory of last season. However the stats were not all that promising for Bettinelli who actually came out as less effective than Boro’s home grown Pears.
He may grow into the role in the near future and become as inspired a signing as Shay Given and Darren Randolph and early signs are relatively promising.