The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from Middlesbrough’s 1-0 home defeat to high flying Norwich City
Middlesbrough 0-1 Norwich City
EFL Championship Game 12
November 21st, 2020
Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
It was a tale of two penalties on Teesside as Norwich moved top of the league thanks to a 72nd minute spot kick from Teemu Pukki. Earlier in the second half, Marcus Tavernier thought he had fired Middlesbrough ahead from the spot, only for referee Tony Harrington to adjudge Tavernier had kicked the ball into his standing foot after slipping, ruling out the goal for a double touch and giving Norwich a reprieve.
Last time out, Boro fought to a scoreless draw against last season’s beaten playoff finalist and here they went toe to toe with a team recently relegated from the Premier League. Players like goalkeeper Tim Krul, former Boro player Ben Gibson, goal scorer Puuki and winger Emiliano Buendia all have plenty of Premier League experience and will be a tough test for any opponent this season.
While on the wrong end of the result here, Boro are showing themselves able to fight with the best teams in the division as they continue to keep hopes alive of a playoff push.
It took a penalty for Boro to concede their first goal in five games, and again the organization and fight of Neil Warnock’s team was strong here. Marc Bola is finding himself matched up with the opposition’s best attacking threat consistently of late, and did a fine job again here as he accounted for Buendia who showed the ability to drive off the dribble and cut inside to cause a threat.
Bola marked Buendia tightly and even came into central positions to provide options while Boro were in possession, allowing him to easily pick up Buendia in transition.
JOHNSON LOCKING DOWN LEFT FLANK
Marvin Johnson returned to the starting lineup for this game in place of Hayden Coulson on the left wing. It is very likely the reason for this switch was the extra defensive strength Johnson offered in support of Bola against the Norwich right flank threat of Buendia and the pacy Max Aarons. It is likely not a coincidence that the winning goal from Norwich came after Warnock replaced Johnson and Djed Spence with the extra attacking flair of Sam Folarin and Coulson who conceded the penalty by bringing down Aarons.
For the second straight game, Boro registered only 39% possession and this time the pressure told when Coulson tripped fullback Aarons to concede the crucial spot kick. As good as Boro are in terms of defensive steel and stifling opponents, keeping the ball on the attacking end and building through the thirds effectively is going to be a key piece of upping their goal scoring output.
When it comes to attacking output, this was the third straight game of Boro being held scoreless, and Warnock’s team have scored only one goal in their last four fixtures. Chuba Akpom led the line for Middlesbrough here, and did not manage to get a single shot off before being replaced by Britt Assombalonga in the 73rd minute.
This lack of scoring threat also plays into exposing the lack of depth in the Boro squad in comparison to promotion rivals. This was the first game since the EFL reinstated the use of five substitutions, and with Boro failing to create going forward Warnock switched out his flank duo of Johnson and Spence for Folarin and Coulson to create more, this ultimately backfired with Coulson conceding the game deciding penalty. As a point of contrast, Norwich had the depth to bring game winner Puuki off the bench and were missing star Todd Cantwell for this game.
Debate raged after the game over Tavernier’s disallowed spot kick, with replays showing it almost impossible to tell if there was a double touch. For Norwich to be awarded a free kick in the scenario, then winning the game later with a legitimate penalty only poured salt into the wound for Boro fans. If any small positive is to be taken from the incident, perhaps any ghosts from the famous Bolo Zenden penalty that helped Boro win the 2004 Carling Cup Final are now excorcised?
THE OPPOSITION – NORWICH CITY
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
Norwich are league leaders on the back of this result, and have a squad full of strength making them a real promotion contender. It is also clear that manager Daniel Farke and his staff pay attention to the details of the game, a fact that was obvious immediately as Norwich has clearly scouted Boro’s regular opening kickoff routine and pressured Jonny Howson into a turnover to start the game.
TEMPO OF PLAY
Another facet of the game Norwich dealt with cleverly was the tempo of play at restarts. Boro are an organized team and able to take the sting out of the game when opponents gain momentum. As can be heard in the audio of the clips below, Norwich were constantly communicating with the referee to ensure the ball returned to play quickly. A clever performance full of game management and awareness was capped off with some legal time wasting of their own when a 1-0 lead was achieved late in the game.
Winger Buendia is one of the more impressive playmakers Boro have faced this season, able to drive to the byline and penetrate or float central to link play. With the option to select Puuki or former Boro man Jordan Hugill as the central target man and Cantwell set to return, Norwich look to have plenty of firepower to carry them to a promotion challenge.
Boro drop to 8th in the table after this result, and four points behind the playoff spots. The schedule lightens up slightly now with a pair of games against last placed Derby County followed by a trip to Huddersfield Town next up on the slate.
Norwich seized first place in the division courtesy of what was their fifth straight 1-0 win over Middlesbrough, the Canaries will face another playoff contender next time out as they travel to face Stoke City.
72’ NOR Teemu Puuki PK (Max Aarons) 0-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#2 RD Max Aarons (Norwich City) – Quality performance from Aarons who defended sharply and overlapped well to display his quality on the ball. Made a decisive play in the game when he drove forward before being tripped by Coulson to win the penalty.
3: CM Marcus Tavernier – Bright performance from Tavernier he won the penalty that could so easily have got Boro a better result.
2: CD Dael Fry – Cancelled out the physical presence of Hugill and dominated aerially throughout.
1: CM Jonny Howson – The sight of Howson winning balls and connecting passes is becoming familiar each game for Boro, and the midfielder was strong against his former team here.
3: RD Max Aarons – Man of the Match.
2: RM Emiliano Buendia – Full of skill and flair, the Argentine wingman tested the Boro back line both out wide and central as he showed good movement to drive the Norwich attack.
1: CD Ben Gibson – Strong performance from Gibson in his return to the Riverside Stadium, marshalling Akpom tightly and showing quality on the ball.
MID: Bettinelli, Bola, McNair, Fry, Dijksteel, Saville, Howson, Tavernier (Roberts), Johnson (Folarin), Spence (Coulson), Akpom (Assombalonga).
NOR: Krul, Sorensen (Vrancic), Gibson, Hanley, Aarons, Skipp, Rupp, Stiepermann (Zimmerman), Placheta (Tettey), Buendia (McLean), Hugill (Puuki).
Full highlights can be found on the official club website here.