Middlesbrough opened their 2020/2021 season with a high scoring 4-3 win over League One Shrewsbury Town in Carabao Cup action. Here we look at 3 good and 3 bad things that coach Neil Warnock can take from the game.
You can find a full detailed game report from the club website here.
1 – FRONT TWO FIRING
The strike pair of Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher have played well since the arrival of Warnock, and have now combined for 10 goals in the manager’s 9 games at the helm. This game gave every indication that the pair will provide the firepower again over the course of the season.
The pair have the athleticism to get in behind, and the team as a whole showed their ability to attack crosses well, with Marvin Johnson and Djed Spence both having the ability to provide service into the box.
2 – PLAYMAKER TAVERNIER
With Patrick Roberts not returning from his loan spell, Boro seem to be in need of a playmaker behind the front two to link midfield and attack. Tavernier has scored 2 goals since the arrival of Warnock and showed the type of energy and movement here that will make him a contender to fill that role.
3 – PROGRESS TO THE NEXT ROUND
Middlesbrough fans have a strange relationship with the League Cup competition. Many will say they would have been fine here with elimination to ease a congested game schedule. At the same time, many of those fans will list the League Cup Final victory over Bolton Wanderers in 2004 as their greatest living day as a fan.
Cup runs and upsets always add historical weight to a season in terms of memory (see 1996/1997 relegation season), and the draw has opened up a path for a glamour third round game at Chelsea if Middlesbrough can beat Barnsley. A game many fans will dismiss as unimportant, unless Middlesbrough manage to win it!
1 – DEFENSIVE PLAY
Conceding three goals to a League One team is not something that will fill Warnock with joy. Boro struggled to contain the Swansea wing duo of Jason Cummings and Shaun Whalley. The pair consistently found room to cross and cut inside to good effect, combining for 2 assists and 1 goal between them.
Boro were also slow to apply ball pressure to teenage midfielder Scott High, who made them pay with a fantastic opening goal.
2 – GRANT HALL DEBUT
Former QPR center back Hall was brought in to provide solidity to the back three. That is still a possibility, and he did show some quality in the air. That said, a slip to let in Rekeil Pyke and the ease in which he allowed young substitute Daniel Udoh turn and shoot for what could have been a late equalizer made it a less than ideal debut.
3 – WINGBACK TRACKING
Shrewsbury came with an aggressive mindset and were not shy to push both of their fullbacks into the attack. Time and again Scott Golbourne and Donald Love got forward and found space, which is a huge issue when deploying a back 3.
When wide center backs Dael Fry and Anfernee Dijksteel were occupied with a fullback, wingers Cummings and Whalley were freed up to roam in pockets of space and cause problems for the Boro. With Swansea playing three central midfielders, it was not easy for Jonny Howson or Lewis Wing to pick these runs up if already marking an opposite number.
A better job by Spence and Johnson of eliminating the fullbacks would have given Boro a more solid structure during many attacks. When Johnson and Spence did track, Boro were left with a back 5 and no outlets wide to counter quickly.
Spence was also caught ball watching to allow center forward Pyke to slip in for Shrewsbury’s third goal off his back shoulder.
1 – WIDE PLAY
The expansive formation and aggressive runs forward all game from fullbacks Golbourne and Love set the tone and showed Boro that Shrewsbury did not come to the Riverside to absorb pressure and escape with a smash and grab upset win. The fullbacks caused a numeric overload and consistent issues for Boro when they joined the attacking third throughout the game.
In the opening clip below, it is left back Golbourne (#3) getting on the end of the cross from Cummins at the back post as winger Whalley (#7) occupies the center backs. In the second clip, left back Golbourne starts the play and ends up playing the through ball to Pyke from a central position.
Wing duo Cummings and Whalley were another consistent issue for Boro throughout the game, showing the ability to cross from wide and cut inside to link with center forward Pyke. Cummings also added a quality goal to bring the score to cut Boro’s lead to 3-2 during the second half.
2 – DEAN WHITEHEAD’S RETURN
There was a familiar face on the visitor’s bench in the form of Whitehead, who played 63 games for Boro and was a key part of Aitor Karanka’s promotion team in 2015/2016. Whitehead is now an assistant manager and his team showed lots of attacking promise here that could see him be part of another promotion campaign in the season ahead.
3 – HORROR DEBUT FOR GOALKEEPER
Goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne had a disappointing debut for the club, and sadly for Shrewsbury his errors played a key part in the end result. Burgoyne let in a seemingly routine shot from Johnson to open the scoring, and later turned the ball over before parrying the ball into Fletcher’s path as the score stretched out to 3-1.
13’ SHR Scott High (Shaun Whalley) 0-1
21’ MID Marvin Johnson (Lewis Wing) 1-1
31’ MID Ashley Fletcher (Marvin Johnson) 2-1
53’ MID Ashley Fletcher (Lewis Wing) 3-1
60’ SHR Jason Cummings (Shaun Whalley) 3-2
65’ MID Marcus Tavernier (Lewis Wing) 4-2
73’ SHR Rekeil Pyke (Scott Golbourne) 4-3
MAN OF THE MATCH
#11 CF Ashley Fletcher (Middlesbrough) – Two goals to open the season from the powerful striker who finished last year in a good run of form. Warnock has many problems to solve in the season ahead, but a consistent goal scorer will not be one of them if Fletcher maintains this type of performance.
3: CF Ashley Fletcher – Man of the Match.
2: LM Marvin Johnson – Johnson opened the scoring with a somewhat fortunate goal, and then assisted Fletcher to put Boro 2-1 up with a good cross.
1: CM Lewis Wing – Wing was heavily involved in the heart of midfield and assisted the opener with a searching cross to find Johnson at the back post. His long range shot was parried into Fletcher’s path for another goal and his free kick caused Tavernier’s strike that eventually proved the game winner.
3: LM Shaun Whalley – Outstanding performance from the veteran winger was him trouble the Boro defense throughout and registered 2 assists.
2: RM Jason Cummings – The Scottish star winger was once a highly touted prospect for a move to the Premier League, he showed flashes of that ability here and brought the score to 3-2 Boro with an excellent curling finish in the second half.
1: CF Rekeil Pyke – The striker showed good physical presence and scored a goal on his club debut, will likely be a high level scoring threat in League One based on this performance.
MID: Stojanovic, Fry (Wood), Dijksteel, Hall, Johnson, Wing (Browne), Tavernier, Howson, Spence, Fletcher, Assombalonga.
SHR: Burgoyne, Golbourne, Ebanks-Landell, Williams, Love (Fossey), High, Walker, Edwards (Daniels), Whalley, Pyke (Udoh), Cummings.
Highlights of the game can be found on the club website here.