Neil Warnock returned to face his old team in charge of Middlesbrough and took a point away courtesy of a hard fought 1-1 draw at Cardiff City. George Saville opened the scoring with his second goal in as many games, before Sheyi Ojo scored a second half goal to give the hosts a share of the spoils. The result leaves Middlesbrough 2 points off the playoff places, with the Bluebirds one point further behind.
You can find a full detailed game report on the official club website here.
Boro lined up in a 4-5-1 shape for the first time all season, with Chuba Akpom leading the line as a lone striker up front. Having the ability to grind out results in different formations can be key over the long haul of a Championship season, and this formation did showcase the ability of Marc Bola and Anfernee Dijksteel to get forward as overlapping fullbacks, something Dijksteel has not been able to do as much all season so far as part of a back three.
TOUGH TO BEAT
“Tough to beat” is a phrase often banded around in regards to Warnock coached teams, and this Boro side looks to be panning out no different. Since losing by one goal in the season opener at Watford, this was the 6th league game unbeaten for Boro, who have conceded only 4 goals during that run.
MILESTONES OF IMPROVEMENT
The game results show an uptick in performance levels since Warnock took over the reigns at Boro last season, and this game was a good yardstick for the continued improvements. In Boro’s final home game last season, Cardiff were dominant at the Riverside Stadium and ran out comfortable 3-1 winners courtesy of two goals from winger Josh Murphy.
This time round and away from home, Boro were more than a match for Cardiff and for most of the game looked on course for victory until Ojo’s second half equalizer. The Boro defense also showed a significant improvement in containing pacy winger Murphy. In the 3-1 win last term, the speed of Murphy stripped the Boro defense as he netted two decisive goals. This time round, Dijksteel nullified his threat in behind, and Boro pressed him as he received the ball consistently, also covering well when he tried to cut inside. A largely ineffective Murphy was withdrawn in the 63rd minute and replaced by Robert Glatzel.
LACK OF CENTER FORWARD THREAT
Playing as a lone striker, Akpom was blunted comfortably by the Cardiff back line led by Sean Morrison. Before he was subbed off and replaced by Britt Assombalong in the 66th minute, Akpom was held to 1 shot and did not manage to complete a single pass all game. In contrast, Cardiff striker Kieffer Moore took 4 shots and completed 16 passes while providing a significant physical presence up top for the Bluebirds.
SET PLAY CONCEDING OF GOALS
It was a corner that saw Ojo level the scores in this game, and it was also a corner that Boro conceded the decisive goal from during their only league defeat of the season so far at Watford. In addition, Dominic Solanke scored from a corner in Boro’s 1-1 draw at home against Bournemouth, bringing the total to 3 goals conceded from corners in only 7 games so far. This is a pattern that Warnock will hope to tighten up and improve in the games ahead as Boro look to move up into the playoff spots.
DJED SPENCE DIP IN FORM
Fulham youth academy product Spence had a red hot start to his Boro career that has somewhat cooled off in the opening months of this season. In December 2019, Spence made his league debut in a 1-0 win over Charlton Athletic, scored his first professional goal in a 1-0 victory over Huddersfield Town and anchored 3 clean sheets on the way to being named EFL Young Player of the Month. A month later, Spence played well as Boro drew 1-1 with Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup and over the summer was linked with a move to several Premier League clubs including Spurs.
Spence has made a sputtering start to this campaign and his contribution to this game was limited to 13 uneventful minutes off the bench. At 20 years old, Spence has plenty of time to turn things around and Boro fans will be hoping for a return to the form that saw him labeled one of the brighter young stars in the division not so long ago.
THE OPPOSITION – CARDIFF CITY
ATTACKING SPEARHEAD KIEFFER MOORE
Wales international Moore was an impressive force in the attack for Cardiff and held the ball up well, linked play and proved to be a thorn in Boro’s side all game before his set play header ultimately led to Ojo’s equalizing goal.
WIth Boro having taken the lead and looking strong, Cardiff manager Neil Harris made an important substitution in the 63rd minute. Winger Murphy was withdrawn after being held in check, Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson was moved out wide and Glatzel played in a central role supporting striker Moore.
The shift gave Cardiff two players capable of challenging for aerial balls and battling the physical Boro center backs, while Glatzel also showcased the ability to settle possession and link with Moore. It was a clever flick from Glatzel that guided Moore’s header to the feet of Ojo when Cardiff scored the game tying goal.
Cardiff started this season slowly by losing 2 of their opening 3 league games and being dumped out the EFL Cup 3-0 by League One Northampton Town. This was a 4th game unbeaten for the Bluebirds, as Harris looks to guide his side to a second consecutive top 6 finish.
36’ MID George Saville (Marcus Tavernier) 0-1
70’ CAR Sheyi Ojo (Robert Glatzel) 1-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#10 CF Kieffer Moore (Cardiff City) – Textbook example of center forward play from Moore who led the Bluebirds attack with strength and quality, his set play header played a key role in Cardiff leveling the scores after he troubled the Boro defense all game.
3: CF Kieffer Moore – Man of the Match.
2: CD Sean Morrison – Anchored the Cardiff backline and held Akpom virtually silent, also a consistent target on attacking set plays for City.
1: CM Harry Wilson – Buzzed around between Boro lines looking to receive the ball in dangerous spots and feed Moore, shifted out wide in a second half substitution.
3: RD Anfernee Dijksteel – First game all season as fullback in a back four for DIjksteel, and he showed his now usual defensive strength containing the threat of winger Murphy. Also got forward well down the right flank using pace and quality on the ball to contribute going forward.
2: CD Dael Fry – Strong performance from Fry who battled it out aerially with Wales striker Moore in a quality display.
1: CM Sam Morsy – Tough tackling Morsy looks to have nailed down a starting role in central midfield for Boro, forming a physically imposing trio with Saville and Jonny Howson.
CAR: Smithies, Bagan, Nelson, Morrison, Osie-Tutu (Bacuna), Vaulks, Ralls, Wilson, Murphy (Glatzel), Ojo (Hoilett), Moore.
MID: Bettinelli, Bola, McNair, Fry, Dijksteel, Johnson (Spence), Morsy, Howson, Saville, Tavernier, Akpom (Assombalonga).
Full highlights can be found on the official club website here.