The dust has settled on Middlesbrough's loss to Swansea City presenting the perfect opportunity to name the best player from the game, a player that performed beyond expectation and who that could have done better.
Middlesbrough fans will have flicked through the channels after the sides defeat to Swansea with serious frustration having seen the side fall to defeat despite putting on an impressive performance.
Swansea City went into the lead early on as the Boro defence fell asleep, allowing Ayew to find the space in the box that makes him so dangerous. The goal was one of the few highlights from the first half and many fans would have expected the game to pan out in a similar fashion during the second half but they would have been surprised about how the game panned out from there. Middlesbrough went on the front foot and managed to contain Swansea in their own half for the most part, maintaining the pressure on Freddie Woodman’s goal and asking questions of the Swans defence. Then Middlesbrough scored, another rifled shot from Marc Bola appeared to have put the Teessiders in the lead before it was pulled back for a non-existent foul in the box. If Middlesbrough had been performing well before the disallowed goal, they appeared to gain extra motivation from the injustice of the situation and Swansea were struggling to deal with the sides offensive play. This came to a head in extra time as Sam Morsy fired a shot into the back of the net from outside the box, catching Woodman off guard with him expecting a shot across the goal. Middlesbrough were delighted by the goal but there was still a considerable period of extra time to go before the final whistle and it was during one of Swansea’s few attacks that Saville attempted a sliding tackle which was deemed to be a foul. The penalty was easily dispatched by André Ayew giving Swansea the victory.
While the injustice of the result will be hard felt by everyone associated to the club, there were a number of positives to take away from the game and if this is an indication of how we can expect Middlesbrough to play next season then fans are in for a season of excitement.
The first player to note for praise, has to be Sam Morsy who put in an impressive performance regardless of his late strike and so deserves positive attention for his display. Meanwhile, Dael Fry put in a typically impressive performance at the heart of the defence, giving Middlesbrough the platform to build their attacking play from. Finally, it is impossible to talk about this game without addressing the referees and their decisions and so it is the men in black that are this games worst performers.
Best: Dael Fry
Dael Fry was sorely missed during his time on the sidelines but he has gone a long way to emphasising his ability since his return to the starting XI with the Middlesbrough youth academy product putting in a number of formidable performances and the game against Swansea was no less than that.
Since late February, Fry has provided an assist and a goal to the Middlesbrough cause as he added an offensive threat to his portfolio in recent weeks and even when, excluding these goals, the 6ft 4 defender up in a number of impressive performances. So it may come as little surprise that he has been named for his exploits against Swansea but he deserves appreciation for his performance regardless.
The fluidity of Neil Warnock’s system when facing Swansea could be seen in Fry’s performance as his man-marking job saw him move into the midfield area where the opposing player was frequently caught unaware to allow the side to regain possession of the ball.
Many would expect Fry to have a high number of defensive involvements as the defenders job is to prevent the opposition from scoring a goal and yet his output was lower than his typical performance as the game developed into Middlesbrough dominating the game. Still he managed to put in a tackle and 2 interceptions, the joint best interceptions in the side. Meanwhile he helped subdue Roberts and Manning, who have become the sides main driving force going forward, by making 3 clearances during his time at Liberty Stadium. Instead he marshalled the talented front line and prevented many breakaways from occurring so that the team felt comfortable when putting pressure on the opposition’s goal. He was also involved in the sides redistribution as the side attempted to find gaps in the Swansea defence to exploit.
The Middlesbrough born players support in rotating the ball lead to him attempting 37 passes, of which 60% found their man which indicates that his passing is something that he needs to improve on in due time but a considerable factor in this instance will be the nature of the passes he would have been attempting as the defence became a key component in breaking the enemy lines and so a reduction in success should be expected.
The former England Under-21 International has been consistently impressive this season and he will probably garner interest from clubs that are above Middlesbrough’s station but keeping the local at the club may well be key to the sides promotion hopes for next season.
Neil Warnock expressed his frustration with the referees during the post match interview as he explained that his side was let down by the ‘team in black’ and he certainly has a valid argument as two of the referees questionable decisions decided the game.
This isn’t the first time the Boro boss has had issues with the referees with it becoming an almost consistent gripe as the officials appear to consistently make poor decisions. Questions must be asked about the quality of refereeing in this league when the referees association frequently apologises for the mistakes made by the match official. There will be a sense of disappointment if the end of the season doesn’t come with a review to the refereeing standards and things can improve from this point onwards.
The first issue that Warnock raised was the foul to Dijksteel that ultimately led to one of the sides key performers being pulled off with an injury. The culprit, Manning, consistently committed questionable fouls down the flank and Warnock’s frustration at him not getting disciplined could be seen in the build up to him getting a yellow card. The primary frustration of Warnock was lead by the fact that none of the officials recognised the foul and so absolutely no action was taken against the wingback.
The biggest issue that came from the game was Marc Bola’s unjustly disallowed goal. Instead a free kick was given for a foul on Jay Fulton that was incorrect by all accounts. If a referee is to award a foul for the interaction then it would have to be given as a penalty as Fulton was the player to digress from the rules having failed to beat Bolasie to the ball, instead kicking at the Bolasie’s foot. While his fisted hand made contact with his face, albeit with no malicious intent but free kicks and penalties have been given for less. In some cases it is easy to excuse a referees decision if he has an obstructed view of the incident but that wasn’t the case in this instance as he had a clear view of the action which makes the decision so baffling and astonishing. Somehow the referee managed to pick the only undoubtedly incorrect decision despite his clear view of the incident.
Then, as if to rub salt into Middlesbrough’s wounds, the referee awarded a questionable last minute penalty to Swansea. The incident, just inside the box, saw Bidwell and Saville challenging for the same ball and there were merely milliseconds separating the pair reaching the ball and so how the referee can be so convinced of his decision is baffling. In fact, he couldn’t have been sure about how to assess the incident as he first signalled for a corner before a commotion was made about the incident. In the end, he made the wrong decision again as the video clearly shows George Saville making contact with the ball before the Swansea counterpart and instead it is the dual connection between the ball and Saville’s foot from Bidlwell that convinces him of ill action. So in this incident, his first decision was correct and the changing of his mind put the final nail in the coffin for Boro’s hopes of getting something out of the game.
I do not say this lightly as it is important to note that referees are human beings that make mistakes as everyone does but this display was simply not good enough from the officials and the game was ultimately decided by those in black rather than the team which team performed best.
Most Improved: Sam Morsy
A player who splits the fan base, Sam Morsy is a hardworking defensive midfielder that often lacks a bit of nous moving forward, but this was not an issue for the Egyptian against Swansea as his goal appeared to give Middlesbrough a deserved point. While the player is consistently good he occasionally puts in very impressive performances and that was the case against Swansea.
The defensive minded midfielder was an unused substitute in the last two games but this was most likely due to tactical changes as Marcus Tavernier returned from an injury that had kept him on the sidelines for a considerable period. His performances before this stint on the bench echo his typical league form this season as he put in solid if not spectacular performances in all but the sides clash with Reading as he assisted one of the sides two goals.
Neil Warnock recognised the fluidity of Swansea and admitted that he was set to try and beat them at their own game and this was quickly recognised on the pitch through the sides fluidity with a number of players occupying different roles and positions during the match. Meanwhile, Sam Morsy was relatively consistent in his role in the side, screening the defence and occasionally dropping into the defensive line.
It is easy to see when someone is successful in playing the ‘dirty side’ of the game as they typically have a high rate of defensive intervention in comparison to the majority of the side and this was the case with Sam Morsy. The 7 capped Egyptian International made 4 successful tackles and 2 interceptions the best defensive contribution in both categories while he committed fouls when Swansea looked to be particularly dangerous to the sides defence committing 4 fouls during his appearance.
Alternatively, Sam Morsy cannot replicate Jonny Howson’s performances in the role as the Egyptian does not have the creative and passing nous of his former Leeds teammate and so it will come as little surprise that Jonny Howson was the midfielder that saw the most of the ball. The 32 year old had 5.5% of the games possession to Sam Morsy’s 4.9% and the former Wigan Athletic midfielders distribution is relative to the amount of possession. He attempted 33 passes against Swansea were the second highest in the midfield but his 78.8% pass accuracy was considerably more impressive than the average 61% success rate and so it is clear that his passing quality was above the sides average in this game. Additionally, Morsy made 25 passes in the opposition half which shows that the player stepped into the opposition’s half when Middlesbrough put pressure on Swansea in the second half.
The fluidity of Middlesbrough’s lineup meant that Morsy occasionally found himself in attacking areas of the pitch as Saville or Howson stepped back to cover the space he had previously vacated. This ultimately helped to lead to the sides only goal of the game from his only shot of the game, giving him a 100% conversion rate against Swansea, but it also allowed him to step into wider areas of the pitch where he sent in 4 crosses, the second highest in the side, that asked questions of a backline that isn’t renowned for its aerial prowess.
The later stages of this game asked more questions of the Egyptian as Warnock’s men attempted to overload the opposition defence and he dealt with the change to the situation with relative comfort and ultimately scored the sides only goal. All the same, Middlesbrough will be hoping to let other players take on the more offensive responsibilities but if he managed to put in a few more performances like this then it would go a long way to making the side competitive next season.