Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers played out an entertaining scoreless draw at Ewood Park. The result extends Boro’s unbeaten streak to nine games, while Tony Mowbray and Blackburn have now won only one of their last seven fixtures.
TOUGH TO BEAT
Neil Warnock has instilled some real steel into his team, who have now not lost in nine and conceded only one goal in their last six games. This fixture was a good test for the Boro rear guard, with Blackburn entering the game as the leading scorers in the division, and ranked second in chances created from opening play.
ELLIOTT BULLIED BY BOLA
Liverpool loanee Harvey Elliott was a key threat in the Blackburn attack, and had registered one goal and two assists in four games since arriving from the Merseyside giants. As had been the case with former league player of the year Anthony Knockaert last time out, Elliott faced heavy pressure and tight marking from Marc Bola and was quieted.
At times, Bola followed Elliott when he checked deep between and was replaced by left midfielder Hayden Coulson who dropped in to cover, and other times Bola passed on Elliott to a central midfielder, with the young playmaker always accounted for.
MORE FLOW GOING FORWARD
While Boro have shown their mettle defensively time and again this season, play going forward has been stuttering with the Teessiders having now found the net only five times over their last six games. In this game, Boro came out of the gate strong and had the better of possession, outshot Rovers 14-5, registered 13 corners to 3, and posted an xG of 1.68 in contrast to Blackburn’s 0.15 rating.
When Boro play in a back four, Bola and Anfernee Dijksteel both show the athleticism and ability to contribute to the attack.
The center back pairing of Paddy McNair and Dael Fry also contributed well by stepping out confidently on the ball and showing the ability to commit midfielders before connecting passes.
While the center forward position continues to be an issue, Boro showed the ability to provide more quality service into the final third here than has been the case in recent games.
While Boro did manage to get off 14 shots in this game, only three were on goal and center forward Britt Assombalonga sent both his attempts off target while also missing a golden chance to give Boro all three points in the first half. The old adage is that a manager should worry more when no chances are created, and this game can be perceived as a step forward for Boro in terms of creative play going forward.
FAILURE TO CONVERT SET PLAYS
Boro were awarded 14 corner kicks throughout the game, with former Boro goalkeeper Aynsley Pears looking vulnerable from several. Despite the repeated opportunities to provide a dangerous delivery into the penalty area, Boro failed to convert that into chances or shots on goal which will be a disappointment to Warnock.
THE OPPOSITION – BLACKBURN ROVERS
There were many familiar faces waiting for Boro fans in this fixture with Blackburn led by former captain Mowbray who played over 400 games for the Teessiders and managed the club for three years. Pears also played 25 games for Middlesbrough, following in the footsteps of his Father Stephen who was also a goalkeeper for Boro and racked up over 300 games, many as a teammate of Mowbray.
There could have been ever more alumni on show, but Stewart Downing was ineligible for this game and center back Dani Ayala was injured.
Mowbray had many injuries ahead of this game, with Downing and Ayala joined on the sidelines by Bradley Dack, Lewis Travis, Bradley Johnson and leading goal scorer Adam Armstrong. It is likely that Mowbray would have been pleased with a point under the circumstances, and will be looking to climb the table when his squad is closer to full health.
DEFENSIVE FRAILTY RECEIVES A BOOST
While a clean sheet is becoming a familiar feeling for Warnock and his men, Blackburn are a different story defensively. Rovers entered this game ranked 22nd in terms of goals conceded and 24th in save percentage. Mowbray and Pears would have been happy to register the clean sheet here against misfiring Boro as they look to bolster their defensive foundation as the season progresses.
The draw keeps Middlesbrough in 5th place with another road game ahead on the slate against playoff chasing Brentford as they look to run their unbeaten streak into double figures.
Blackburn fell into 15th place after this draw and Mowbray will be looking to guide his team to victory in their next game at home against Queens Park Rangers to start climbing towards the playoff places.
MAN OF THE MATCH
#7 CM Marcus Tavernier (Middlesbrough) – A bright, all energy performance from Tavernier who linked defense to attack and appears to be the closest Boro have to a ‘number 10’ type playmaker in the center of the park.
3: RD Ryan Nyambe – Strong defensive performance from the right back who got forward in attack and also came up with a big first half block to preserve the clean sheet.
2: CD Derrick Williams – Solid defensive display from WIlliams who also stepped out in possession well.
1: CF Sam Gallagher – Strong target man who was a thorn in the side of a strong Boro defense with the limited service he received throughout the game.
3: CM Marcus Tavernier – Man of the Match.
2: CM Jonny Howson – A magnet for the ball, intercepting, winning tackles and ticking possession over all game as Boro probed for the breakthrough goal.
1: CF Britt Assombalonga – Hard running performance from Assombalonga who played well in the buildup only for his finishing touch to let him down at the key moment, also provided a key defensive header to help keep the game scoreless in the second half.
BLA: Pears, Rankin-Costello, Williams (Wharton), Lenihan, Nyambe, Elliott, Trybull (Evans), Holtby, Dolan (Rothwell), Brereton, Gallagher.
MID: Bettinelli, Bola, Fry, McNair, Dijksteel, Saville, Howson, Tavernier, Spence, Coulson (Johnson), Assombalonga (Akpom).
Full highlights can be found on the official club website here.