Two up, two down: Grant Hall's heroics and spurned opportunities
Wednesday, 3rd Mar 2021 12:08 by Jake Emmerson
While not a match for the purists, the Coventry game saw Boro take a vital three points away from St. Andrew’s for the second time this season.
Goals in either half from Grant Hall and George Saville mean that Boro remain in 9th place, only three points away from the play-offs.
For our new regular feature, we decided to look at two ups and two downs from the match.
Strength from the bench
This has been something that has eluded Neil Warnock for much of the season.
The new arrivals from January combined with the returns of all players bar Ashley Fletcher mean that Boro now have players on the bench who can change the game.
And they did just that! Marvin Johnson was the standout player from the bench, creating problems down the left and playing in some great passes, including the pass that set Jonny Howson off for the cross that led to Boro’s winner.
The man on the end of that cross, Saville, was another substitute that came on after another industrious performance from Tavernier. He nearly added an assist in injury team but Yannick Bolasie was unable to put away his through ball.
Bolasie also looked good from the bench and may well be Boro’s starting striker on Saturday after a strong cameo that outshone Akpom’s efforts for the first 74 minutes.
The ability to bring on quality replacements to cover tired legs could be vital going into the final stretches of the season.
Grant Hall's heroics
After getting injured so early on into the season, it was hard to tell what Boro were missing out on without Hall being available. Since his return he has three solid performances at the back when starting, and scored his first competitive goal for Boro in the first half.
Warnock will be delighted to have a centre back who can get himself on the end of McNair’s set pieces after repeatedly pointing out that it is one of the key areas missing from Dael Fry’s repertoire.
As well as scoring the equaliser, Hall also put in a dominant display at the back, keeping Coventry’s attacking players at bay.
His performances have allowed McNair to return to central midfield, a position he has previously stated he prefers, where he can aim to utilise his range of passing more regularly.
The one area where Hall will be looking to improve is his clean sheet record. He is yet to record one in his seven appearances and will have his work cut out to try and get his first against Swansea this weekend!
A lack of control
While three points is the key statistic from this game, Boro were by no means dominant or in control for large spells of the game.
Coventry caused a lot more issues than Boro in the first half and it could be argued the equaliser came against the run of play.
The pitch was in bad way, the result of being played on twice a week all season by Birmingham and Coventry, which meant that passing football was not particularly well facilitated. This led to a repeat of the weekend in parts, with many long balls being played by both teams.
When passes were attempted, they were often wayward from both sides; this lack of quality made the game difficult to watch for long periods. Kebano and Tavernier tried to make things happen but they didn’t come off for the most part.
Against an opposition that lacked quality, this lack of ability to take control went unpunished but with a trip to Swansea at the weekend, Boro will need to take a much tighter hold of the game if they are to come away with any points.
With three changes made to the side that drew with Cardiff at the weekend, opportunities were handed to Djed Spence and Chuba Akpom who have largely seen themselves pushed to the fringes since the New Year.
Unfortunately, neither player was able to have much of an impact on the game, and Akpom was taken off after failing to replicate the standards of his cameo on Saturday.
Spence put in a shift, getting up and down the pitch in the wing back role and trying to get stuck into tackles but was guilty of giving the ball away on several occasions.
It could even be said that McNair failed to make the most of his move to his preferred midfield role tonight but he was not noticeably worse than the players in the middle from either side.
With the new found depth in the squad, it was a shame that Spence and Akpom weren’t able to give Warnock a bit more to think about when picking his side for the Swansea match.
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