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The Best, The Worst, The Ones To Watch

This review will offer a vague overview of Middlesbrough’s best and worst performers as a prelude to the detailed reviews of each player’s season in future articles.

The Best:

Despite the teams overall performance, there are a few players that deserve to be mentioned for their commitment and output for the cause this season.

The first name on the list, Jonny Howson, is a model professional and a tireless midfielder. He played in a number of unfamiliar roles as he filled in at wingback and centre back with relatively consistent performances, particularly for a player out of position. His passing capabilities have also made him one of the lynchpins in the team towards the end of the season as he dominated the long passes stats during Neil Warnock’s tenure. The player has extended his contract through a clause in the one he signed when he first came to the Boro and, despite the financial outlay, Middlesbrough will be glad to have him tied down to a contract.

The second player on this list is Paddy McNair. The Northern Ireland International has shown himself to be one of the more formidable Boro midfielders and, although it seems to have been an age ago, he went through quite a patch of form, wherein he appeared to be individually driving the team forward. He may not have matched that output since but his performances have still been impressive and very consistent.

The final player on this list is Ashley Fletcher, who’s attacking output has been superior to everyone else this season. He matched Howson in the most assists chart with 6, while being Middlesbrough’s top goalscorer with 11. Although these stats alone don’t sound particularly flattering, they equate to Fletcher being involved in 36% of all Middlesbrough’s goals this season. With Middlesbrough hoping to increase their goal scoring output next season, it is likely that they will bring in an attacker or two and perhaps they should consider how the new recruits could utilise Fletcher’s talents.

The Worst:

It would be harsh to single out individual players as the ‘worst’ players in the team, particularly since the team has underperformed as a whole. However there were a few players who unfortunately stood out this season for their performances on and off the field, some of which are going to be highlighted in this segment.

The first on this list is Ryan Shotton, who was signed as a strong solid Championship level centre back and despite finding himself playing at right back at times under Tony Pulis, he showed just how capable he was at defending at this level. As one of the better paid and more experienced players there was a lot of expectation on his shoulders. Unfortunately, he failed to live up these as he played in a back line that conceded considerably more goals than that of the previous seasons. Meanwhile he could be highlighted in individual mistakes that have led to goals during the season.

Despite an unconvincing season, Shotton has been a good servant to the club and signed a waiver to continue playing for the club despite his expiring contract, shows his good character and it is a shame that this season didn’t quite work out for him. He is still undoubtedly a good centre back who will be a great addition to whichever team he signs for.

The second person on the list is Daniel Ayala. The strong and reliable centre back played a total of 25 games for an ever changing back line and he put in a number of great consistent defensive performances, and the stats indicated that Middlesbrough performed considerably better with him in the team. However the Spaniard would be pulled from the win against Preston North End due to an injury; and although Boro fans were unaware of it at the time, it would be the last game that he would play for the club.

This would be have been a fine outcome all onto itself. However rumours came out that Middlesbrough’s physio’s and a specialist assessed him and gave him the all clear to play however the player continued to complain that he wasn’t ‘right’. A respectable position to hold as no one can tell if there is an issue more than yourself. However, the rumours indicated that there was a growing feeling around the club that Ayala was using his injury to avoid playing for the club; recognising, as the club fell down the table, that being involved in a leaky defence may have a detrimental impact on his value and reputation with prospectus clubs. Whether this was accurate or not, by the end of quarantine he should have been fit enough to join the ‘short preseason’ to play the final games of the season. This didn’t end up being the case as Ayala reportedly turned up to training clearly unfit and unprepared and the coaches believed his had been ignoring the personalised training schedule during quarantine.

Ayala showed his class whenever he was on the pitch, however due to his selfish behaviour, he has found himself on this list.

The final player on this list is Rudy Gestede. The target man has been a bit of an enigma during his time at the Boro, after an impressive goalscoring record at Blackburn, he turned into a striker who appeared to be incapable of threatening the opposition goal. However, I am willing to excuse these issues as he clearly works best in a striking partnership, something he rarely had the opportunity to play in.

My issue more came in how he seemed languid and unbothered in the majority of his games this season, consistently getting beaten in the air by opposition centre backs, which is a massive issue when your aerial ability is supposed to be one of your most dangerous prospects. However he did show his ability in a few glimpses and perhaps with a stretch of matches, he could have turned into a consistent striker for Boro. Either way, he decided that playing past his contract was not a viable option for him and he left the club shortly after Neil Warnock arrived.

Ones To Watch:

One of the few positives to come out of this season was the fleet of young players that have shown their worth this season. They have preformed so admirably that their inclusion will not come as a surprise to anyone.

The first on this list is Hayden Coulson. The youngster is actually the oldest player in this list at 22 years old. In his breakthrough season, he played 29 matches for the club at left wing back and left wing. He performed consistently and was one of the more balanced fullback options; being able to defend and attack admirably. However, he is clearly not a finished article as his end product was lacking, and so could be worked on. Meanwhile, he also had a couple of injuries this season, which will be a concern, as the club will hope that it doesn’t stint his development.

On the other side of the pitch Djed Spence turned out to be one of the few sparks in the team. He showed a lot of pace and ball carrying ability during the season. However, he is a more offensive option and unfortunately had a high possession turn over during some of the games. He is clearly a very talented player, at only 19, he has a lot of space to develop and become increasingly consistent.

It may feel like he has been around for some time but Marcus Tavernier is actually younger than Hayden Coulson, at 21, the midfielder has had more first team experience than the other names in this list and it showed in his streetwise performances during a season where his talents where clear for all to see. The blue print for a brilliant player is there and he would probably benefit from playing in a settled side that alleviates some of the creative pressure that sits on his young shoulders. The benefits of which were shown during the post quarantine games as Patrick Roberts took the brunt of this expectation, allowing Tavernier to put in some of his most impressive performances this season.

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