Middlesbrough cruised to a comfortable 3-0 home win over Derby County at the Riverside Stadium to move back within touching distance of the playoff spots. Captain Britt Assombalonga opened the scoring for Boro in the first half when he bundled home a header across goal from Duncan Watmore. An own goal doubled Boro’s lead when Matt Clarke turned a Marvin Johnson cross into his own goal, before substitute Johnson capped the scoring with a quality solo goal in the 83rd minute.
You can find a detailed game report on th eBBC website here.
ATTACKING DECK SHUFFLED
Neil Warnock made some changes to his attack that paid off in style, Assombalonga was drafted back into the starting lineup in place of Chuba Akpom and responded with his second goal of the season as he seeks to hit some scoring form.
Manchester CIty loanee Patrick Roberts played as an attacking central midfielder and proved a good bridge between midfield and attack. Roberts found space well in a range of dangerous positions and provided consistent service to the center forward. England legend Wayne Rooney played in a holding midfield role for Derby in the first half, but the younger and quicker Roberts proved very tough for Rooney to keep track of.
A player looking to break into the first team on a regular basis, a fired up Roberts also put in one of his best defensive performances in a Boro shirt that included forcing the turnover that led to Boro’s opening goal.
There was also a new face in the Middlesbrough attack in the form of Duncan Watmore who was released by rivals Sunderland over the summer after 87 games for the club. Neil Warnock signed free agent Watmore on a short term contract until January, and if the forward can contribute in the fashion he did here, assisting on the opening goal and linking well with Assombalonga, it will prove to be a very shrewd acquisition by the veteran manager.
In an interview with BBC Sport, Warnock gave some detail on the extra facet that Watmore brought to the Boro attack. “It’s not a natural thing for a wing-back to make runs inside and support a striker, whereas Duncan does it automatically. You’ve got to have something like that in games. It allows us to have different options instead of just being rigid.”
JOHNSON IMPACT OFF BENCH
Left winger Johnson played well on the defensive end last time out against Norwich City, and perhaps would have felt a little unfortunate to not start this game. After being introduced as a 63rd minute substitute, Johnson this time showed his attacking prowess and was a key figure as Boro closed out the game.
In the 71st minute, Johnson found space out wide and drove into the penalty area before sending in a low cross that forced an own goal from Clarke. Eight minutes later, Johnson collected a ball over the top from George Saville and carried the ball forward before cutting across the front of Clarke and curling a quality finish into the top corner.
BACK ON TRACK
This result meant Boro fans did not have to wait long for their team to get back on track after losing only their second game of the season last time out. The resounding 3-0 win lifts Middlesbrough to seventh place and has them sitting only two points back in the playoff race. As an added bonus, Boro boast the best defense in the division, having conceded only six goals in 13 games.
KEY INJURIES PERSIST
In isolation, there were very few negatives in what was a comfortable three points and a welcome three goal outburst for the Teessiders. Boro still have some injured players that will strengthen the playoff push upon their return, with key absences down the spine of the team including Grant Hall, Sam Morsy and Ashley Fletcher.
THE OPPOSITION – DERBY COUNTY
Derby are a club in turmoil right now having won only one of their opening 13 league games and rooted to the bottom of the league table. After parting ways with manager Phillip Cocu this month, a new, temporary and seemingly convoluted leadership structure is now in place.
Former Boro boss Steve McLaren has been installed as Technical Director while a partnership of Liam Rosenior and still active Rooney lead from the dugout on a caretaker basis. The trio have a sizable task on their hands to turn things around for the Rams, with Rosenior making it clear his unhappiness with the team mindset postgame.
“I just am speechless in what I saw first half in terms of desire, passion and winning duels. That was unacceptable. Attitude is absolutely everything. I want to see a team that goes out on Saturday and gives everything for this football club and what the fans deserve,” Rosenior told BBC Sport.
The Rams also showed a lack of composure during this game, receiving five yellow cards from referee Peter Bankes, including one for the frustrated bench staff within the first 65 minutes of the game.
It will need a stark improvement in performance and mindset in the near future if Derby are to stand a chance of avoiding relegation come the end of the season. A glaring example of the tactical disorganization of Derby came late in the game when a Marcus Bettinelli goal kick found a wide open Spence for one of the easiest goal scoring chances you will see created at Championship level.
The Rams have now failed to score in their last four games and have scored only five goals in the 13 game season to date. Deploying England and Manchester United’s record goal scorer as a deep lying midfielder is likely not the best use of his talents, especially given the defensive struggles outlined above he had tracking opposing playmaker Roberts.
In the second half, Derby’s attack improved notably when Louie Sibley was introduced from the bench and managed to find space and take some shots on goal, while Rooney moved into a higher position and showed some nice touches to link play going forward.
With veteran attackers such as Martyn Waghorn and Colin Kazim-Richards in the squad alongside Rooney and teenager Sibley, Derby will be hoping there is enough quality to break out of this slump and score the goals necessary to climb the table.
BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE FOR CLARKE
There were some reasonable performances in the Derby back four given the fact that they were on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline. Right back Nathan Byrne joined the attack to good effect and defended well before one positional slip that allowed Boro winger Johnson to force the second goal. In the center of defense, former Liverpool man Andrew Wisdom showed quality on the ball, but his partner Clarke struggled and was exposed by the Boro attack.
Clarke was in close proximity to Boro striker Assombalonga but could not prevent the opening goal, before turning Johnson’s low cross into his own net to double the score. To top off the worst kind of hat-trick for a defender, Clarke was squared up by Johnson who easily found space to curl home a nice finish for the third goal of the day.
This result and scoreline was a welcome shot in the arm for Boro before they travel to face Huddersfield Town in their quest to break into the top six.
Derby have now lost four consecutive games and failed to find the net on all four occasions, a home game against fellow strugglers Wycombe Wanderers is next up as the Rams look to close the six point gap between them and safety from relegation.
33’ MID Britt Assombalonga (Duncan Watmore) 1-0
71’ MID Matt Clarke OG (Marvin Johnson) 2-0
83’ MID Marvin Johnson (George Saville) 3-0
MAN OF THE MATCH
#19 ACM Patrick Roberts (Middlesbrough) – Quality performance from Manchester City loanee Roberts who floated all over the field between opposition lines, found possession and provided quality service to the center forward.
3: ACM Patrick Roberts – Man of the Match.
2: CF Britt Assombalonga – A constant thorn in the side of the Rams, the powerful Assombalonga spearheaded the attack well as he opened the scoring and was in place waiting to score had defender Clarke not turned Johnson’s cross past his own goalkeeper to double Boro’s lead.
1: LM Marvin Johnson – Only arrived into the game as a 63rd minute substitute, but had a decisive impact as he forced an own goal to make it 2-0 before rounding out the scoring with an excellent solo effort.
3: CF Louie Sibley – Another substitute who made a big impact on the game, getting two shots off within 10 minutes arriving into the game and adding some spark to the Rams attack.
2: RD Nathan Byrne – Good performance for long spells from Byrne who defended gamely and overlapped well going forward. The fullback did blot his copybook by being caught too high and allowing Johnson the space to create the second goal, but was still one of the better players on what was a poor day for the visitors.
1: CM Wayne Rooney – Poor first half from Rooney who could not come to terms with the movement and ability of Boro playmaker Roberts. Created more chances and showed flashes of the old quality when moved into a more advanced position after the interval.
MID: Bettinelli, Bola, McNair, Fry, Dijksteel, Saville, Howson, Roberts (Spence), Watmore (Johnson), Tavernier (Wing), Assombalonga (Akpom).
DER: Marshall, Buchanan (Holmes), Clarke, Wisdom, Byrne, Rooney, Bird, Knight, Jozwiak (Kazim-Richards), Lawrence (Whittaker), Waghorn (Sibley).
You can find full highlights of the game on the official club website here.