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Disastrous defending and apathetic attitudes end Middlesbrough's play-offs hopes
Saturday, 3rd Apr 2021 08:30 by Jake Emmerson

After a Good Bad Friday disappointment for Boro, any remaining play-off hopes now look to be vanquished. An underwhelming performance along with some woeful defending leave us making the long trip back up north in a deflated state.

Here are our two ups and two downs from the game.

Two up

Morsy moderately better than the rest

After Boro’s performance at Millwall before the international break, fans were left begging the question as to why Sam Morsy was absent in a game that seemed to so perfectly fit his attributes. He was restored to the lineup for the Bournemouth game and he battled the hardest out of the Boro players on the pitch.

In a game with few positives, he made it difficult for Jefferson Lerma and Jack Wilshere in the middle of the park and displayed the strength and tenacity he has shown throughout the season.

One could argue that Morsy was unlucky not to be handed the captain’s armband after Assombalonga was stripped of his duties. While Howson is the ‘model professional’ who plays every game, he doesn’t seem to have the ability to put fire into his teammates and bring out their best play. Morsy has previous experience of captaining a side at Wigan and in a team devoid of leadership, his work rate and aggression provide an example that many would do well to follow.

Unfortunately for him, the one mistake he made all game handed Bournemouth their second goal - a sucker punch after Boro had equalised only three minutes earlier.

The play-off race is over

While this does not sound like a positive, with play-offs now accepted to be out of the picture, Boro now have an opportunity to put their remaining seven games to good use.

With little riding on the remaining results, Warnock can use the rest of this season to experiment with his players; trying out different formations, putting players in new positions and giving chances to fringe players to prove themselves ready for the next season.

Opportunities could be given to Hayden Coulson and Djed Spence who have found their game time limited this year and we may even see academy prospects Josh Coburn, Hayden Hackney and Sam Folarin before the season is out. Jordan Archer may also start some games as Boro decide whether to extend his contract.

All of this will allow Warnock to work out exactly how he wants to start next season, who he wants to keep, sell and loan out. This will hopefully allow Boro to start next season in the strongest manner possible.

Two down

Disastrous defending

In a season where Boro fans have seen more than their share of softly conceded goals, few have been quite as poor as those seen against Bournemouth.

From double marking, to losing markers to poor deflections to allowing simple rebounds – Bournemouth's attackers won’t have had many easier rides this season. Dael Fry’s absence and McNair’s international duties didn’t make things any easier but Hall and McNair both played well below the standards they have set this season.

The first goal came from Hall running to try and tackle Arnaut Danjuma who was already being marked by Fisher which left a huge, uncovered gap for Phillip Billing to run into for the opener. The second came from Mendez-Laing losing Billing down our right, allowing him a free cross which Morsy made a hash of clearing.

The final goal was the worst of the lot, with Dominic Solanke’s stinging effort was palmed straight back towards him by a hapless Bettinelli as the striker ran past three static defenders to pick up the rebound and slot in.

With Fry reported to be out for 2-3 weeks, the upcoming games against Watford and Barnsley could get painful again.

Apathetic attitudes

What struck me most from this match was that with a fair amount riding on the game, there was a distinct lack of urgency in Boro’s play. We knew that play-offs were already going to be a stretch, but this game could have started a run of form that would have put a lot of pressure on 6th spot.

And yet, having already wasted an opportunity away at Millwall in the previous game, the players approached this match with just as little aggression, just as little quality (for large patches) and with just as little energy as we had seen at the Den.

Although ultimately most would consider this season a success under Warnock, the amount of games where this lack of urgency, creativity and desire has been shown since the turn of the year has been cause for concern.

Going forward, one area where Boro must improve is in utilising the first half of matches better than they have so far this season. They have been losing at half time in 13 matches this season and failed to score in the first half on 22 occasions. The first half against Bournemouth was a non-event as far as Boro were concerned and they were again left with another comeback required for the second half which only looked possible for all of three minutes.

Having just equalised and with the opportunity to push on for a big result, Boro lost their concentration and their sluggish defending allowed Bournemouth back into the lead with an infuriatingly soft goal. The remainder of the game petered out and Boro did very little else in a disappointing display of attitudes.

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