The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from Middlesbrough’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth in their home EFL Championship Opener
Middlesbrough 1-1 Bournemouth
EFL Championship Game 2
Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
September 19th, 2020
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
Middlesbrough grabbed a point courtesy of a late equalizer from Marcus Browne in a hard fought game against recently relegated Bournemouth. Star striker Dominic Solanke opened the scoring for the away team with a clever backheel finish in the 38th minute, before substitute Browne headed home a Paddy McNair cross in the 81st minute.
You can find a detailed match report on the official club website here.
1 – POINT ON THE BOARD
The fixture list handed Neil Warnock’s team a tough start to the season with back to back games against opposition freshly relegated from the Premier League to open the season. After a narrow 1-0 defeat at Watford, Boro will be happy to get at least one point on the board against another team perceived as an early season promotion favourite here.
2 – DEFENSIVE CORE FORMING
Recently signed goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli received criticism after conceding two soft goals against Barnsley as Boro were dumped out of the Carabao Cup in midweek. Bettinelli played well here and pulled off a number of good saves, including one effort to deny Bournemouth winger David Brooks in the first half, clawing away a powerful strike that was headed towards the top corner. Bettinelli also came up big late to save a Jefferson Lerma header and preserve the point for Boro.
With the outstanding early performances of McNair and Anfernee Dijksteel in the first half of the season,if Bettinelli and fellow new signing Grant Hall can settle, Boro will have a good defensive foundation to build on as the season progresses.
Dijksteel has been one of the breakout performers so far this campaign for Boro, and the Dutch defender put in another outstanding display here.
Another upgrade to the back four has been the move by Warnock to drop McNair into the back three. McNair adds real quality into Boro’s ability to include defenders in the attack. As has always been the case, McNair provides a consistent threat with quality set play delivery also.
3 – FANS BACK IN THE STANDS
As part of an EFL ‘fan pilot’ initiative, Boro were allowed a limited attendance of 1,000 fans in the stands for this game. While it seems a long road back to full crowds, something we are all less likely to take for granted ever again, it was nice to hear the authentic noise created by a set of live fans invested in the game.
While it will likely not gain ‘Spirit of Steaua’ type status in the annals of club history, the late equalizer from Browne was a nice memory for the fans in what was likely a unique experience. Well, unique for fans too young to have attended Anglo-Italian Cup games during the Ayresome Park era, games that likely had a similar atmosphere and attendance figure!
1 – SET PLAY VULNERABILITY
Boro have conceded a goal from an opposition corner in both league games to open the season, League One Shrewsbury Town also scored from corner in the Carabao Cup 1st Round game at the Riverside Stadium.
While this goal was certainly a neat finish by Solanke, he beat front zone defender Dijksteel to the ball far too easily, and Boro will be hoping that the pattern of conceding from restarts does not become a season long theme.
2 – ASHLEY FLETCHER INJURY
Striker Fletcher has been a focal point of the Boro attack since Warnock took over the reigns and was already off the mark this season courtesy of his two goals in the 4-3 cup win over Shrewsbury.
Fletcher limped off in the 68th minute and is a doubt for the team’s next game at Queens Park Rangers. Captain Britt Assombalonga will be left to pick up the slack in attack, and Browne will be pushing for a starting role after netting what was his first goal for the club in this game.
Striker Chuba Akpom arrived on the morning of the game from Greek Super League team PAOK for an undisclosed fee and could well be called into action quickly at Loftus Road.
3 – MARVIN JOHNSON FORM
Left wingback Johnson put in a string of positive performances during the tail end of last season, nailing down the left flank role and earning himself a new contract in the process.
While maintaining his starting place, Johnson has yet to hit those heights yet this season. His crossing was not reliable and he conceded what could have been a very costly late free kick by fouling Philip Billing on the edge of the penalty area late on. Johnson will likely have to display an uptick in performance levels to keep Hayden Coulson out of the team, though Coulson does show defensive vulnerability and wingback may not be his best role.
THE OPPOSITION – BOURNEMOUTH
1 – CONFIDENCE ON THE BALL
During their Premier League heyday under Eddie Howe, Bournemouth gained a reputation for being comfortable on the ball and able to play out of the back. While they have lost a good deal of elite talent through the departures of Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson (Newcastle United) they still show ability to build out of the back and produce some quality buildup play.
2 – STAR MAN SOLANKE
England international Solanke is viewed by many as an unfulfilled talent, but at 23 years old he still has time to reach the potential he showed in 2017 when he won the Golden Ball during England’s run to U20 World Cup glory.
That same summer he earned a move to Liverpool where he was on the fringes of the first team before moving to Bournemouth for a fee of around $24 million.
Solanke led the Bournemouth attack with quality here and his size and strength made him a real handful for the Boro defense to deal with. He capped his performance with an excellent goal and will be looking for a strong campaign to put himself back in the discussion for an England callup.
A good season in the Championship has served as a launching pad for the Premier League careers of players such as Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount and Jack Harrison. Solanke will be looking to add himself to that list and consistent performances such as this one should see him return to the top flight in the next year or two, whether that be with or without Bournemouth.
3 – BACKBONE AND FIGHT
One criticism of Bournemouth during their relegation campaign was that for all of their quality in possession they lacked backbone and were a little soft on the defensive side. That will not get a team far in the Championship, and was not the case during this game. Bournemouth committed 20 fouls to Boro’s 12 and were more than willing to engage in the physical side of the game. Adding steel to the quality that comes from players like Solanke and Brooks will make Bournemouth a strong contender for a return to the top flight come season’s end.
38’ BOU Dominic Solanke (Arnaut Groeneveld) 0-1
81’ MID Marcus Browne (Paddy McNair) 1-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#9 CF Dominic Solanke (Bournemouth) – Led the line with quality and physical presence, scoring his team’s lone goal with an excellent finish.
3: CD Paddy McNair – Dropping McNair into the backline has proved a masterstroke from Warnock in the early stages of the season. The Northern Ireland international has been strong defensively, good on the ball and proved a big threat at set plays. McNair assisted on Boro’s late equalizer with a fantastic, curling ball into the area to set up Browne.
2: CD Anfernee Dijksteel – Another Boro defender drawing praise in the early season is Dijksteel. The powerful defender has been immense defensively and showed quality in possession also.
1: CF Britt Assombalonga – While yet to score so far this season, captain Assombalonga has proved a real spearhead up front, and his hard running style drew fouls and kept the Cherries defense on the back foot on multiple occasions so far this season.
3: CF Dominic Solanke – Man of the Match.
2: CD Chris Mepham – Tough tackling display from the center back who performed well while blunting the threat of Boro’s physically imposing strike force of Fletcher and Assombalonga. Mepham also showed composure on the ball and was an important part of Bournemouth’s buildup play.
1: GK Asmir Begovic – The veteran shot stopper commanded his area well, cleaned up set play balls and was a strong leader to the Cherries backline. Begovic is one of the better goalkeepers outside of the Premier League, and proved a tough barrier for Boro to beat.
MID: Bettinelli, McNair, Hall, Dijksteel, Johnson, Tavernier (Morsy), Saville, Howson, Spence (Fry), Assombalonga, Fletcher (Browne).
BOU: Begovic, Kelly, Cook, Mepham, Smith, Gosling, Lerma, Stacey (Rico), Groeneveld (Billing), Solanke, Brooks (Sturridge).
Full highlights of the game can be found on the official club website here.