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Middlesbrough column: The key Neil Warnock trait that bodes very well for the future
Friday, 5th Mar 2021 11:17 by Jake Emmerson

After a disastrous Tuesday evening at home to the most out of form team in the league last week, Boro followed up with a point against the most in form team in the league in Cardiff.

This week they followed this up with a win against a struggling Coventry side which will probably go down as the least memorable of the season.

These last two matches were clearly not among Boro’s best performances of the season, however, they both showcased a quality that Boro have lacked for a number of years - the ability to come back from conceding first.

While not everyone’s preferred method of obtaining points, and often nerve shredding for fans, comebacks provide some of the most memorable and satisfying matches to watch. Some of the greatest memories for Boro fans involve comebacks, whether the cup semi against Chesterfield or the glorious UEFA Cup victories of almost 15 years ago.

The victory against Coventry was the sixth match Boro have managed to win after conceding first under Neil Warnock. Having been in charge less than a year, and despite the Bristol hammering, Warnock is bucking the trend compared to many of the Boro managers we have seen since those heady UEFA cup days.

Across the last 15 years, conceding first has all too often spelled the end of the game as a contest. This can be attributed to a number of things, from team spirit to squad depth, but the style of management is also a significant factor.

We decided to compare the performances of every Boro manager since 2006 in league matches where we conceded first. In this time there have been 8 permanent managers who have managed 626 league games. Of these games, Boro have conceded first in 290, with 192 of those games – 66% - resulting in defeat.

Despite currently having one of the shorter tenures of the Boro managers in that time, Warnock has more points from games where Boro have conceded first than four other Boro managers. In the 42 league games he has been in charge, Boro have conceded first in 21 with six wins and two draws – in other words, 20 points garnered coming from behind.

Jonathan Woodgate managed 10 points from conceding first in his 38 games in charge. Only winning once against Stoke, the team suffered from an apparent lack in both quality and confidence; for which the manager is largely held responsible.

While Warnock’s performance compared to Woodgate may not come as much of a surprise, his performance against Tony Pulis surely will. In games where Boro have conceded first, Warnock has more points than Pulis, despite managing 27 less league games and conceding first in 7 less games. Pulis got a miserly 15 points from conceding first, winning only twice and drawing on nine occasions.

This cannot be attributed to a lack of talent under Pulis, it was mostly down to his style of management which relied upon scoring first and holding out for a win leading to too many grim days. When conceding first, he showed little sign of implementing a plan B and losses were generally a forgone conclusion. There are too many dismal examples to call upon but the play-off loss to Villa and the forlorn Cup defeat at Newport still stand out amongst the mass of mediocrity.

Garry Monk managed the smallest number of games in this period (unless you count Steve Agnew). In the 23 league games managed, Monk only won 9 points in games where Boro conceded first, with 2 wins, including his final game in charge against Sheffield Wednesday. Conceding first occurred in 13 of the 23 games Monk was in charge so in terms of points per game from such matches, he would still have been behind Warnock.

Under Aitor Karanka, things were a little different. In the 148 league games he was in charge, Boro only conceded first in just over a third, while Warnock has done this in exactly half of his games. Of the 51 games where Boro conceded first under Karanka, Boro managed to gain 23 points. This is only three more than Warnock has managed in a far greater number of games. Karanka was similar to Pulis in that his style generally relied upon scoring first. Astonishingly Karanka only won 5 games from conceding first, less than the number that Warnock has already achieved.

The fact that Boro were so good at scoring first under Karanka meant this wasn’t a noticeable problem while we were in the Championship, but in the Premier League season it made things particularly difficult. Boro only gained two points after conceding first and were found out by too many teams for Karanka to last.

Of all the managers Boro have had since 2006, only Tony Mowbray can boast a similar record when coming from behind to Warnock. In 71 games where Boro conceded first under Mowbray, they attained 64 points, with 16 wins and 16 draws, dwarfing the records of the other managers across the period.

Mowbray was in charge for 137 league games, 11 less than Karanka but conceded first in 20 more matches. It has previously been mentioned that parts of this season resemble the 11/12 season under Mowbray and this is another situation where Warnock has a similar record to Mowbray in terms of points achieved per game when conceding first.

Gordon Strachan has the worst record of the permanent managers in this period, with only seven points achieved when conceding first, which happened in 21 games of his 43 game tenure. This included a singular win against Burnley, who went 1-0 up through Andre Bikey, later employed by Boro, before a Tarmo Kink double fired us to victory. Despite being in charge for 20 more games than Monk, he gained two less points in games when conceding first.

The final manager in the list, Gareth Southgate, was left in a difficult position with regards to the huge expectations on his first managerial position, coming weeks after hanging up his own boots. Southgate won 24 points from games when conceding first. From 127 games in charge, conceding first in 62, Southgate won fewer games (4) than Warnock already has (5) from behind. Southgate drew 12 leaving him on 24 points from conceding first; only seven more than Warnock has managed.

Comebacks may not be a key statistic for a manager. For Karanka, the most successful manager within this period, they were not a major part of his plans. However, in the Championship, a league renowned for throwing up surprises, the ability to come back from a losing position is a key characteristic for many teams that eventually go up. Brentford have gained 23 points from games where they have conceded first, including their match at the Riverside last month.

Boro need to have the mentality that enables comebacks forged into the team DNA. It is credit to the spirit that Warnock has been able to instill within the team that the fortunes when coming from behind have improved. However, the dire recent home form and that poor result at Derby have shown there is no room for complacency.

On top of the additional points attained through comebacks, they bring a sense of excitement and joy, something that has been significantly lacking at Middlesbrough since the promotion season. It is another of the qualities brought in by Warnock that has made him such a popular figure among fans. And while we have focussed on comebacks on an individual match basis, if Boro were to somehow come back from the current dire stretch of home form and put in a play-off challenge, it would surely be one of the best and most unlikely Boro comebacks since those joyful days almost 15 years ago.

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