Match verdict: Time for Neil Warnock to shuffle the Middlesbrough pack
Saturday, 27th Feb 2021 17:01 by Phil Spencer
Middlesbrough battled back to secure a 1-1 draw against Cardiff City
It was a game of few clear cut chances but Sean Morrison put the visitors in front, before a late rally led to Paddy McNair grabbing an equaliser late in the game.
Here's the action as it unfolded.
Neil Warnock made four changes for the visit of his former club.
Grant Hall, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Marcus Tavernier and Britt Assombalonga came into the starting line-up as Middlesbrough looked to get back to winning ways.
They replaced Darnell Fisher, Sam Morsy and Neeskens Kebano who dropped to the bench, while Ashley Fletcher in injured.
In truth it was dire opening to the game with both teams cancelling each other out in the opening 25 minutes of the game.
Both sides caused minor worry for their opponents from set pieces but barring Harry Wilson's low free-kick that was saved by Marcus Bettinelli, there wasn't many opportunity to speak of.
Marcus Tavernier looked bright early on after returning to the side and won a free-kick on the edge of the area after rolling his man, however Paddy McNair's effort went harmlessly wide of the mark.
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing almost had an opportunity after going painfully close to latching onto a poor back pass, before Jonny Howson teed up Britt Assombalonga who should have done better with Middlesbrough's best chance of the game.
The Teessiders were building momentum with Cardiff looking uncharacteristically nervy at the back.
Grant Hall had a chance moments later after getting on the end of Mendez-Laing's cross but his header landed on the top of the net.
Middlesbrough were turning the screw and went so close as Duncan Watmore turned his defender inside-out before letting fly with an effort that was cleared off the line.
But if you don't take your opportunities then you risk being caught out and that's exactly what happened as Sean Morrison headed home from a set piece after 35 minutes.
It was against the run of play and so Neil Warnock will have been gutted to see his side go in behind.
Half-Time: Middlesbrough 0-1 Cardiff City
The second period started in much the same fashion with little in the way of clear cut chances.
It was all a little bit scrappy and as we passed the midway point in the second half it was clear that Middlesbrough needed to take a tactical gamble to try and switch things up.
Marvin Johnson and Neeskens Kebano were introduced and provided a small injection of confidence, but not enough to really break down the Cardiff defence.
Chuba Akpom was next to be introduced but with just 10 minutes to go it was going to take quite an effort to get back into the game.
But despite looking bereft of confidence Middlesbrough found a way back into the game as Neeskens Kebano broke free in midfield before finding McNair in the box who bundled home.
Middlesbrough looked the more likely to get a winner in the final stages but it would end with a point gained for Warnock's side.
Full-Time: Middlesbrough 1-1 Cardiff City
Phil Spencer's verdict
In the end it's hard to argue that it was one point gained for Middlesbrough.
Despite a bright opening the Teessiders appeared shell-shocked by the way that Sean Morrison opened the scoring for Cardiff City.
It was a clear-cut sign that confidence in the Boro camp is at an all-time low.
The hope was that during the second half Middlesbrough would really take the game to Cardiff, but in truth that never really happened until it was too late.
Ultimately the point has to be credited to the substitution made by Neil Warnock.
Neeskens Kebano, Marvin Johnson, Chuba Akpom and Djed Spence all brought real energy to the team after their introduction and that was what led to Paddy McNair bundling home late on.
After that it was all Middlesbrough and the quartet ran Cardiff ragged as they looked for a late winner.
Although that second goal never quite came I really hope that the final few minutes will act as a confidence-booster for some of these players who just haven't had a big enough opportunity of late.
Neil Warnock's standard template of a team looks stale and jaded but waiting in the wings he has players who can make a difference.
Frankly, I think that teams have figured us out.
It may hinder his robust tactical plan, but with our play-off push hanging in the balance it may be time to take a few more risks if we're to get some wins on the board.
There's a real danger of the season fizzling out and so perhaps by switching things up Middlesbrough get a second wind in their push for the top six.
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