Two up, two down: Tavernier's Middlesbrough return & anonymous Britt Assombalonga
Sunday, 28th Feb 2021 13:52 by Jake Emmerson
After a hard fought game at the Riverside, Boro were able to claw a point off a resolute Cardiff team that were in good form coming into the match.
This leaves us in 9th place following a difficult month but still only five points short of the play-off spots.
We decided to have a look back at the Cardiff game and give two ups and two downs from the game.
Marcus Tavernier’s return
Oh how Boro have missed his presence in the last seven games!
A surprise inclusion in the starting lineup after Neil Warnock had suggested he would be out for another week, Tavernier provided a much needed boost of energy in the Boro midfield.
He buzzed around, putting pressure on the defenders and linked well with Duncan Watmore and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing in the first half.
Almost earning Boro a penalty after some slick link-up play, he was a headache for Cardiff for much of the game.
With performances like that, Tavernier will be key to determining where Boro finish up this season.
The imminent return of Yannick Bolasie could set up an exciting creative force for the final two months of the season.
Coming from a goal behind
While the large number of throw ins and long balls were reminiscent of the Tony Pulis era for Boro, Warnock has shown that he can do something that Pulis very rarely managed to achieve, gaining points after conceding first.
In the 21 games where Boro have conceded first under Warnock, they have gone on to gain 18 points (12 this season).
Pulis only managed to gain 15 in 28 games when conceding first. This improved ability to fight back shows the spirit that Warnock has instilled in the team.
After such a poor display midweek and conceding after having been the better team for much of the half, it would have been easy for heads to drop.
Boro kept their composure and remained patient in the second half, finally prising a goal from a stubborn defence that had only conceded three in their last six games coming into the match.
The second half long ball barrage
After looking the better team for much of the first half with some good link-up play and pressure on the Cardiff defence, the second half tactics were rather puzzling.
Cardiff are renowned for their ability in the air, with Morrison, Flint and Nelson towering above most strikers in the division, let alone Britt Assombalonga.
Yet Boro played long ball after long ball for the majority of the half, the vast majority of which were easily swept up and knocked away by Cardiff.
Watmore, Mendez-Laing and Assombalonga tried to chase and challenge but were always going to be fighting a losing battle.
The goal eventually came from an attack where Boro kept the ball on the floor for the most part (although maybe not intentionally for Marcus Bettinelli), begging the question why Boro insisted on playing the ball in the air for so long.
Since then, bar a good performance at Forest, he has done nothing to further that case.
Today again, he could not find a way to get himself into the game and much of the play passed him by.
While it could be argued that the long ball style in the second half didn’t suit him, there was still a lack of effort to put himself about, making the life of the Cardiff centre backs easy.
He didn’t win many second balls or link well with anyone playing behind him. Once Akpom came on, it became even clearer that the issue was not the style of play.
He got a flick on for the equaliser and played a solid cameo that surely will earn him the starting spot on Tuesday.
Perhaps the most telling result of this poor form was the change in captaincy.
Jonny Howson has now been confirmed as the club captain for the remainder of the season.
Warnock’s effort to try and galvanise Assombalonga with the armband has ultimately failed and now he has seen enough to convince him that he isn’t up to the job.
This likely puts Britt’s future being away from Middlesbrough beyond all doubt.
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