Middlesbrough and Brentford scrapped to a scoreless draw that leaves both teams within touching distance of the top six. The game was the 10th without defeat for Neil Warnock’s team, while Brentford have lost only one of their last seven.
MEN OF STEEL AT THE BACK
Brentford entered this game having scored in each of their previous nine fixtures, led by star striker Ivan Toney who has scored 10 goals this season, one more than Boro’s total team output of nine goals in the campaign so far.
The Bees were blunted in this game, with Boro goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli registering his sixth clean sheet of the season as Boro ran their total of goals conceded on the season to five in 11 games. Warnock’s men appear to be laying a solid platform on the defensive end to launch a playoff push.
LEVEL OF OPPOSITION
Early in the season league tables can be deceptive due to strength of opposition faced, but this was a case of Boro picking up an away point against yet another team expected to be in the promotion shuffle when May comes around. Brenford made it all the way to the playoff final last season, and as the table stands Boro have faced four of the top 6 teams, losing only once and conceding just two goals in those games.
HOWSON AT THE HEART OF MATTERS
Central midfielder Jonny Howson is in a good run of form and is a key piece of the strong team Warnock is shaping on Teesside. A magnet for the ball on both the offensive and defensive side, Howson provides a quality shield for the Boro defensive line and contributes well in possession going forward. This game was no exception, as Howson led Boro with 37 completed passes, and tied for the team lead with eight interceptions alongside defender Anfernee Dijksteel.
BLUNT UP FRONT
Boro lined up with a sole striker for this game with Chuba Akpom spearheading a 4-2-3-1 formation supported by Lewis Wing in the attacking central midfield position. Striker Akpom produced one off target shot and completed only two passes before being replaced by Britt Assombalonga in the 79th minute.
As strong as Boro are defensively, the attacking output of nine goals in 11 games so far will have to improve as the season progresses to remain in the promotion hunt.
Ashley Fletcher is a key loss that contributes to Boro’s attacking struggles and Warnock will be hoping for his return to action soon, with other important figures such as central midfielder Sam Morsy and center back Grant Hall also sidelined in an already thin squad. Northern Ireland international midfielder George Saville missed this game for personal reasons and was replaced by Wing.
Boro do not appear to have much depth in comparison to some other promotion contenders and a clean bill of health or new additions in the transfer window will be vital if they are to be in the playoff mix throughout the entire season.
INEXPERIENCE IN CENTRAL MIDFIELD
With Morsy out, Marcus Tavernier and Wing formed Boro’s central midfield trio alongside the impressive Howson. As the audio in the clip below underlines, the Boro bench had to guide the pair through the game at times in terms of defensive shape,
Wing and Tavernier are not as strong defensively as Saville and Morsy, so there were times that Brentford dribbled through the midfield and forced the Boro back four to pick up the slack. Also, at one point in the first half, Wing and Tavernier both drifted too far to the right side and allowed Brentford winger Bryan Mbeumbo space to pick up the ball, drive into the penalty area and fire a shot on goal. It was an issue that improved as the game progressed as the shape improved and Boro kept yet another clean sheet.
THE OPPOSITION – BRENTFORD
STAR MAN TONEY
While Boro struggle at the attacking end with a lone forward, Brentford have one of the best strikers outside the Premier League in Toney who has already netted double figures this season. While held scoreless in this game, last season’s League One Player of the Year showed his quality time and again when dropping deep to link play.
Brentford may have been blunted at the sharp end of the field by a stout Boro defense, but they looked impressive in the run of play. The Bees were full of quality on the ball and registered 61% of possession during the game, with young German midfielder Vitaly Janelt showing very well.
BUILDING FROM THE BACK
Central defender Ethan Pinnock was the foundation of Brentford’s defense and also outstanding in possession. Pinnock blunted the threat of Akpom, and it was also clear that a big part of the game plan was for him to dribble out and commit one of Boro’s three central midfielders when not pressured. The defender showed good decision making and good range while completing 76 passes, the most of any player on the field.
The draw leaves Middlesbrough one point behind the playoff spots with another crunch game ahead, as they prepare to host third placed Norwich City at the Riverside Stadium this weekend. Warnock will be hoping for the return of Morsy and Saville to the engine room ahead of that crunch game.
Brenford are three points off the playoff pace and will be looking to make it five games without defeat as they travel to face struggling Wycombe Wanderers next time out.
MAN OF THE MATCH
#16 CM Jonny Howson (Middlesbrough) – Dominant performance in central midfield from Howson who was a key reason Brentford did not convert their possession dominance into many clear cut chances.
3: CF Ivan Toney – Impressive performance from Toney who showed clever movement and the ability to connect passes in tight spaces between the Boro lines.
2: CD Ethan Pinnock – Stifled Akpom well and showed quality of the ball, completing 76 passes and stepping out to dribble into midfield positions well.
1: CM Vitaly Janelt – The Germany Under-21 international recycled possession well under pressure and showed the ability to carry the attack from midfield areas. Did miss a second half sitter when provided a chance to win the game from a Henrik Dalsgaard cross.
3: CM Jonny Howson – Man of the Match.
2: CM Marcus Tavernier – All action performance from Tavernier who tried to drive the Boro attack, and worked defensively for the long spells that Brentford had the ball.
1: CD Paddy McNair – Defended strongly against a quality opponent in Toney while also playing well in possession and providing a threat with quality set play delivery.
BRE: Raya, Henry, Bech Sorensen, Pinnock, Dalsgaard, Dasilva, Janelt (Fosu), Jensen, Canos (Ghoddos), Mbeumo (Forss), Toney.
MID: Bettinelli, Bola, McNair, Fry, Dijksteel, Howson, Tavernier, Wing, Coulson (Johnson), Spence, Akpom (Assombalonga).
Full highlights can be found on the official club website here.