The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from Middlesbrough’s 2-1 home win over Barnsley in EFL Championship play.
Middlesbrough 2-1 Barnsley
EPL Championship Game 4
Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
October 3rd, 2020
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
Middlesbrough secured their first league win of the season courtesy of goals from Jonny Howson and Chuba Akpom who scored his second goal in as many games for the club. Striker Cauley Woodrow netted a late consolation for the Tykes who could not match the result they achieved just a few weeks earlier when they eliminated Boro from the EFL Cup at the Riverside Stadium.
You can find a full detailed match report on the club’s official website here.
1 – MAIN MAN BACK IN THE DUGOUT
(Warnock in the dugout against Barnsley, picture courtesy of Teesside Live)
Manager Neil Warnock returned to the Boro dugout after a spell in quarantine with COVID-19, and it was a significant career landmark for the veteran gaffer. This win was Warnock’s 1,500th game in club management, a journey that started in the northeast of England three decades earlier as manager of Scarborough.
Warnock will be hoping this win can spark a run of good form, as his team have registered two draws and now a win since their opening day 1-0 defeat at Watford.
(Warnock during his first managerial season at Scarborough, picture courtesy of the Northern Echo)
2 – FRY RETURNS TO THE FIRE
Young center back Dael Fry had started the season on the bench after mixed form last season. An injury to new signing Grant Hall in last week’s 1-1 draw at Queens Park Rangers saw Fry come in as a substitute and play well enough to earn a start here.
The former England U20 World Cup winner made an impact in his return, showing dominance in the air and proving a rock solid presence in the heart of Boro’s back three sandwiched in between the excellent pair of Paddy McNair and Anfernee Dijksteel.
3 – STRONG DEFENSIVE DISPLAY IN CM
Warnock’s team are starting to show some real signs of steel in the defensive aspect of the game, and the central midfield area was a good reflection of that in this game. Howson anchored the three man midfield with the hard tackling duo of George Saville and Sam Morsy proving a dominant presence in terms of winning the possession battle.
A good indicator of Boro’s improvement in this area comes in the shape of Barnsley’s attacking central midfielder Luke Thomas. In the recent victory at the Riverside Thomas was a dominant force for the Tykes, finding plenty of space to cause problems between the Boro lines and providing both assists in an eventual 2-0 win.
In this game, Thomas was shackled tightly by Boro’s central midfield trio and had his space suffocated when he found possession. As a result, the playmaker was largely ineffective before being subbed off in the 67th minute and replaced by Elliot Simoes.
1 – DEPTH AT CENTER FORWARD BACK TO SQUARE ONE
The recent signing of Akpom appeared to give Boro competition and depth at the striker position, but it seems a case of one in, one out for now as Ashley Fletcher looks to be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to the hamstring injury he picked up in the recent 1-1 draw against Bournemouth.
For now, the cover of Akpom and captain Britt Assombalonga will come in the form of Marcus Browne. While the jury is still out on Browne, he did play well in the cup defeat to Barnsley and scored Boro’s equalizer to pick up a point against Bournemouth.
2 – DIP IN FORM CAUSES CHANGE AT WINGBACK
Djed Spence and Marvin Johnson closed out last season as regular starters under Warnock on either flank, and retained those spots to start this season. Johnson even scored Boro’s first goal of the season when he scored in the 4-3 EFL Cup win over Shrewsbury Town.
For this game, both players were benched after a run of average performances and Johnson was replaced at left wingback by Marc Bola. On the right flank, Marcus Tavernier shifted out to wingback and made space for the inclusion of Morsy in the central midfield area.
Talking to GazetteLive, Warnock described the move as a “kick up the backside” for Spence and Johnson, and competition will be heated going forward after Tavernier and Bola contributed to a win here.
3 – GOALKEEPER INJURY SCARE
Goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli has started to settle in well and laid claim to the number 1 shirt. For that reason, many fans were nervous in the second half when the keeper dove full length to stop an Alex Mowatt free kick and collided with the goalpost. Bettinelli did manage to stay on the field, but the incident left him crumpled in the net and in need of lengthy treatment before he continued play.
THE OPPOSITION – BARNSLEY
1 – MIDFIELD RUNNERS JOINING ATTACK
Barnsley play a dynamic attacking formation that places a premium on runners from midfield joining or running beyond the center forward pair of Woodrow and Dominik Frieser. This was a big part of their game plan, with Marcel Ritzmaier and Mowatt causing problems in spells, but these runners were tracked effectively by Boro and the strike pair were left starved of support for long spells.
As illustrated in the above videos regarding Boro’s central midfield display, Barnsley found less space on the ball between Boro lines in this game also, rendering playmaker in chief Thomas largely ineffective.
2 – MANAGER’S LAST GAME?
The buildup to this game for Barnsley had a cloud looming over it in the shape of manager Gerhard Struber’s future. Austrian manager Struber has become a popular figure with fans after taking over with the Tykes in last place and seemingly relegation bound last season, only to spark a fun of form that saw them escape the drop on the last day of the season courtesy of a dramatic injury time winning goal at Brentford from Clarke Oduor.
Rumours are growing of Struber being primed to take over the vacant head coach position at MLS franchise New York Red Bulls with his possible departure imminent in the coming weeks.
3 – RELEGATION STRUGGLE AHEAD?
After the dramatic escape act of last season, Struber expressed his desire to stabilize the team and push up the table. Despite looking so impressive in their EFL Cup win over Middlesbrough earlier this season, Barnsley remain winless after this result and sit only one point above the relegation zone in the early stages of the season.
45+1’ MID Jonny Howson (George Saville) 1-0
48’ MID Chuba Akpom (Marcus Tavernier) 2-0
89’ BAR Cauley Woodrow PK 2-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#6 CD Dael Fry (Middlesbrough) – The young center back took advantage of his return to the starting lineup with a dominant performance that will give manager Warnock a selection headache when recently signed Hall returns to fitness.
3: CD Dael Fry – Man of the Match.
2: CF Chuba Akpom – New boy Akpom continued his flying start to life in a Boro shirt with his second goal in as many games for the club.
1: CM Sam Morsy – Energetic and hard working performance from Morsy who looks to have added some real steel and presence to Boro in the heart of midfield.
3: RM Jordan Williams – A strong performance on the attacking and defensive end from Williams who linked well with the forward while simultaneously being a match for opposite number Bola when asked to defend.
2: CM Alex Mowatt – Heavily involved in a tough game for the Barnsley midfield, recycling possession well and forcing a good save out of Bettinelli from a free kick.
1: CF Cauley Woodrow – Deprived of quality service up front for long spells, Woodrow showed persistence and was rewarded when he won and converted a late penalty kick to spark hope of a comeback.
MID: Bettinelli, McNair, Fry, Dijksteel, Bola, Saville, Howson, Morsy, Tavernier, Akpom (Coulson), Assombalonga.
BAR: Collins, Andersen, Helik, Sollbauer, Ritzmaier (Ludewig), Mowatt, Styles, Thomas (Simoes), Williams, Frieser (Adeboyejo), Woodrow.
Game highlights can be found on the official club website here.