Midfielder George Saville fired Middlesbrough to a 1-0 win against league leading Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Paddy McNair led a strong defensive performance for Boro that was capped off when Saville pounced on an error from Taylor Moore before rolling home the decisive goal. The result saw Bristol fall to second place behind Reading, while Boro moved to within one point of the playoff places.
Boro played well to hold scoreless a Robins team that had managed to score twice in all 5 of their league games so far this season. This was Boro’s second clean sheet of the season, and Neil Warnock’s team have conceded only 4 goals in their first 6 games of the campaign.
Fulham loanee Marcus Bettinelli has nailed down the starting spot in goal, and Anfernee Dijksteel and McNair continue their red hot form to open the season. Former England Under-20 World Cup winner Dael Fry completes the back three and has played well since returning to the starting lineup courtesy of a Grant Hall injury in the 1-1 draw at Queens Park Rangers.
THE RETURN OF PATRICK ROBERTS
Playmaker Roberts made a second ‘debut’ for Boro after recently joining on another loan spell from Manchester City. Roberts adds a layer to Middlesbrough’s attack that will be particularly important while Ashley Fletcher remains on the sidelines injured.
The first loan spell of Roberts at the club last season was a mixed bag, with him scoring a crucial winning goal at Reading late in Boro’s successful battle against relegation but that was his only goal and he ended the season on the bench as Boro won 2-1 at Sheffield Wednesday on the last day of the season.
This game was a promising sign of things to come, as Roberts partnered Chuba Akpom in a front two and dropped deep to get the ball and drive forward the attack with good effect. Roberts has fantastic ability to tight spaces and is also capable of beating players 1v1, something that will help Boro create goals as the season progresses should he maintain this level of performance.
QUALITY OF OPPOSITION
The last two games Boro have played have been against the top two teams in the division, and the only defeat so far this team has come by one goal at the hands of promotion contending Watford. The ball winning strength and defensive organisation of Boro will prove a difficult challenge for all opponents over the course of the season, and Boro could be in the mix for a playoff challenge.
INJURIES TESTING DEPTH
It was the strike partnership of Fletcher and Britt Assombalonga that fired Boro away from the drop zone after Warnock’s arrival at the club late last season. Both players were out injured for this game, with Fletcher spacing a lengthy spell on the sidelines. Recent signing Grant Hall is also nursing a calf injury and will be out for another several months.
CAPTAIN NOT FIRING
Captain and star forward Assombalonga will likely return from injury in a week or two, and he will still be looking to get his first goal of the season upon returning. After registering 11 goals last term, Assombalonga has failed to find the net in any of his 6 appearances so far this season.
THE OPPOSITION – BRISTOL CITY
WINGBACKS HIGH IN THE ATTACK
The Robins set up in a 3-5-2 shape with Tommy Rowe and Jack Hunt serving as the left and right wing backs respectively. The pair are clearly instructed to position themselves in high, attacking positions, with it being common for a wingback to become a third man high up on the attacking line alongside the strike pair of Chris Martin and Nahki Wells.
Another interesting aspect came during playing out of the back. During the buildup phase, either a central midfield player would come into a wide pocket of space to receive the ball, or the defender would carry the ball up the field while the wingback pushed into a higher, more dangerous position to occupy the Boro bak line. This pattern provided the Boro wingback duo of Marvin Johnson and Djed Spence with plenty of work to do on the defensive end all game.
QUALITY IN ATTACK
Despite being shutout by a strong Boro team here, it was easy to see why Bristol have had little trouble scoring goals so far this season. The strike duo of Wells and Martin offers pace, strength and quality on the ball. The pair are a big presence attacking crosses, and able to interchange throughout the game with one coming deep to receive the ball in space while the other stays high on the attacking line.
GAME DEFINING ERROR
Bristol built out of the back with quality all game, but it was one slip in this area that proved the defining moment of the game. Goalkeeper Daniel Bentley rolled a goal kick to a wide open Moore inside the penalty area, and the defender took way too long in possession, allowing Saville to close him down before winning a tackle and rolling home the game deciding goal and gift Boro all three points.
73’ MID George Saville 0-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#19 CF Patrick Roberts (Middlesbrough) – Roberts showed quality on the ball and found space to bridge the gap between the midfield and his strike partner Akpom. Showing a good first touch, ability and tight spaces and quality on the dribble Roberts was a handful for Bristol throughout the game.
3: CF Nahki Wells – The Bermuda international striker spearheaded the attack as Bristol tried to find a potentially decisive goal, linking well with strike pair Martin and keeping Boro’s back three alert from whistle to whistle.
2: CD Zak Vyner – Strong physical center back who won the ball well all gamr and showed ability to pass out of the back.
1: GK Daniel Bentley – Quality performance between the posts from Bentley, anchoring the Bristol backline well and commanding his area at set plays.
3: CF Patrick Roberts – Man of the Match.
2: CM Jonny Howson – All action performance at the heart of the midfield from Howson, winning tackles and completing passes to ultimately tip the balance in favor of his team.
1: CD Paddy McNair – Strong performance from McNair as Boro shackled a quality strike pair of Wells and Martin who had combined for 2 goals and 4 assists in their last 4 games played.
BRI: Bentley, Mawson (Kalas), Moore, Vyner, Rowe, Paterson, Bakinson, Weimann, Hunt, Wells (Semenyo), Martin (Diedhiou).
MID: Bettinelli, McNair, Fry, Dijksteel, Johnson, Saville, Morsy, Howson, Spence (Tavernier), Roberts (Browne), Akpom (Wood).
Full highlights can be found on the official club website here.