Please log in or register. Registered visitors get fewer ads.
Opposition Preview - Middlesbrough
Written by ad_wilkin on Thursday, 7th Dec 2023 09:25

Good news for Town, who have had a habit of conceding early on, is that Middlesbrough have been one of the slowest out of the block in terms of scoring in the first half. They have only scored eight times in the first half with opening period results putting them way down in 22nd in the table.

However, they have scored the most second-half goals of all teams, which if only second halves were counted would put them second behind Leicester. Town would sit sixth in the table for just second-half results. Fortunately for Town games are 90-plus minutes long.

A lot of the build-up to this game will focus on the tactical battle between Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna with both managers having spent a lot of time on the Manchester United touchline together.

This will be the first time the two will have come head-to-head with both of them enjoying success last season with similar styles of play.

Boro lost some key players from the team that finished fourth last season, particularly Ryan Giles who was Carrick’s version of Leif Davis down that left hand side. This could explain the slow start with only two points gained in their first seven games.

A win against Southampton at the end of September proved to be a catalyst for improvement and they have now won eight of their last 12 so come into this one as a big threat despite losing a close game to Leeds at the weekend.


Middlesbrough's number one is Senegal international Seny Dieng, who joined this summer from QPR having been at the London club since 2016. He replaces Zac Steffen, who was on a season-long loan from Manchester City last year.

Dieng has started all 18 games so far this season and has kept five clean sheets. However, he has conceded 26 goals and has a goal prevented rate of -4.42, which means he’s significantly underperforming. This was seen in the last match as Leeds scored a couple of close range headers, one of which Dieng should have definitely been more dominant in his box with and come and claimed.

His competition is 25-year-old Australian Tom Glover, who also joined this summer on a free transfer, having spent the last four years at Melbourne City in his home country.

He’s yet to make a league start but featured in all four Carabao Cup games with Boro still in the competition and facing Port Vale in the next round, despite not being at their best in their 3-2 victory over Exeter in the previous round, and he’ll see more game time there.

Glover is likely to remain on the bench for league games having not really impressed that much.


Boro have regularly lined-up consistently in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Carrick sticking with tactical consistency despite a poor start to the season.

It is very much a similar philosophy to McKenna with the overall approach that if plan A doesn’t go well, just implement plan A better.

The main starter at right-back in that back four is Rav van den Berg, a 19-year-old Dutchman signed from PEC Zwolle in the summer.

He’s a versatile defender and able to play left-back, centre-back and right-back and scored his first goal of the season against Preston a couple of games ago but is still quite raw with only 46 senior matches to his name across his time and PEC Zwolle and Middlesbrough.

His competition on the right side is Anfernee Dijksteel, who by comparison has 104 games of Championship experience, although he has never been a main starter in his career dropping in and out of the side during his four and a bit season at the club.

He’s been given his opportunity this season as injuries have seen Van den Berg move across to centre-back for the Preston game and put in a solid appearance there.

Djiksteel has not helped the lack of options in defence by collecting two yellow cards followed by a red in the last match against Leeds, so he won’t be available for this one.

Alongside Van den Berg in the match against Preston was a far more experienced campaigner in Manchester United graduate Paddy McNair. Still only 28, the Northern Ireland international made 27 appearances at Old Trafford, followed by a brief stint at Sunderland before joining Middlesbrough in 2018.

He’s recovered from injury issues that blighted his earlier career and has been an ever-present in his time at the Riverside, hitting the 40-match mark in three of his five seasons at the club. McNair's featured as both a defensive midfielder and a centre-back, but is now very much settled in the more defensive role.

Since the time of writing that first bit about his clean injury record, he has become the latest victim of the injury crisis at Boro after being forced off with a back problem in the game against Leeds, which is likely to keep him out of this one.

Moving across to left-back we have Alex Bangura who seized his chance in only his second start of the season by scoring in the 4-0 victory against Preston. That came off the back of an impressive Carabao Cup performance where he got two assists to keep Boro in the game against Exeter.

The 24-year-old is another new signing, having joined late on in the transfer window from Dutch side SC Cambuur. He made 113 appearances for Cambuur in both the Keuken Kampioen (Dutch second tier) and the Eredivisie, leaving the following their relegation last season.

He already has a goal and two assists in his seven appearances for Boro and will be hoping this is the catalyst to keep him in the side.

The man he replaced is Lukas Engel another summer signing, this time from Danish side Silkeborg. Engel had played 12 games so far and was looking to have locked down that left-hand side before picking up an injury against Bristol City.

He was back on the bench and made an 81st minute sub appearance against Leeds so is in contention for this one.

Also on that extended injury list are Tommy Smith and Darragh Lenihan, who are both experienced Championship campaigners so will be big losses. Smith has made 282 Championship appearances across spells at Huddersfield, Stoke and now Middlesborough and Lenihan has 268 for Blackburn and then Boro.

That leaves a couple of former Town players currently occupying space on the bench in the shape of Hayden Coulson and Matt Clarke.

Clarke, who left Ipswich as part of the swap deal with Portsmouth that saw Adam Webster join the Super Blues, impressed on the south coast before following the aforementioned Webster to Brighton.

He didn’t make a single appearance for the Seagulls and was loaned out to Derby twice and then West Brom before making a permanent move to Middlesbrough in 2022.

He’s only made seven appearances for Boro, suffering from back problems for the majority of last season but he got his first minutes of the campaign (all eight of them) in the 4-0 victory against Preston with Boro short on numbers in that area of the pitch.

The Barham-born defender followed that up with more minutes against Leeds replacing McNair when he had to come off.

Left-back Coulson only made six appearances in a Town shirt as he also struggled with injury in his loan at Portman Road. He’s only made 52 appearances for Boro despite having worked his way through the youth system and is still looking to make his breakthrough.

Coulson's had loan spells at St Mirren, Cambridge, Peterborough and Aberdeen in addition to Town but still hasn’t really found a home. With two new left-backs coming in he has now dropped to third-choice and not made an appearance since the second game of the season having started the first two.

The final member of the squad in that defensive unit is Dael Fry, who missed the games against Preston and Leeds with a hamstring issue. If that isn’t serious it seems likely that he will come back into the squad having started the first 17 games of the season.

The 26-year-old has been at Middlesbrough his whole career (discounting a short loan at Rotherham) and has made 226 appearances for the club. He’s only scored two goals in that time but more than makes up for it with his defensive work.

He currently sits seventh in the league for clearances per game on 4.8 showing that he’s excellent at dealing with trouble. Town’s top performer in that area is Cameron Burgess on 5.1 putting him in fourth place.


Moving into midfield and Boro’s most common pairing has been the two Hs of Howson and Hackney. Thirty-five-year-old Howson, who spent five years up the road, joined Boro in 2017 and has now surpassed his Norwich appearance total on Teesside, 291 to 188.

He comes with vast experience and captains the side. As his career has progressed, he’s moved into a deeper role, so his goal record isn’t as good as it was in earlier years, but he has developed a very good partnership with Hayden Hackney, doing the dirtier aspects of the game to let the youngster get forward more.

Hackney is Middlesbrough’s key man in midfield. He ranks third for total passes in the league for all midfielders and ninth for key passes. He isn’t shy to do the dirty work either sitting 10th for tackles and 13th for duels won.

He’s still only 21 years of age and has a big career ahead of him but is likely to miss the game against Ipswich with Carrick stating that he wasn’t too close to starting the last game against Leeds. This will be a big boost for the Blues as he’s one of the top young talents in the Championship.

His replacement in those two games has been Daniel Barlaser, who has certainly taken his chance with assists against both Preston and Leeds via excellent corner deliveries. Town will need to take extra care to make sure that their set pieces are well defended in this one.

Barlaser joined Boro from Rotherham in January 2023 and has been in and out of the side since signing. He made 152 appearances for the Millers and was equally productive on the assist front there with 25 to his name. He’ll be hoping that he can continue his form in the run of games he’s likely to now get with Hackney’s injury

Playing ahead of the midfield two in the number ten role is one-time Town target Matt Crooks. Crooks is another one who has made the move to the Riverside from Rotherham, where he was one of their star players with 21 goals in 97 appearances. He’s continued that scoring form at Middlesbrough and currently sits on 22 from 105 games.

Three of those have come this season but it should probably be more as he’s currently underperforming his xG (expected goals) by 1.29. He has however found a bit of form in recent games with a lovely reverse pass assist against Preston and a goal against Bristol City.

At 6ft 3in tall he’s a different prospect to most number tens in the league but he’s deceptively good with his feet and provides extra physicality to the Boro frontline.


I'm going to start the forward line with the players that are missing. Twenty-five-year old Australian Riley McGree, who had such a good season last year, is a big miss. He suffered the same foot injury as Christian Walton in October and that’s likely to keep him out of this one, although he should be close to a return to training soon.

He scored six goals and assisted three last year and was already on three goals this season before his injury.

Also missing for this one is Marcus Forss, who like McGree also had a big impact last year with 15 goals involvements (10 goals and five assists). He also had two of each at the start of this season. He’s had a thigh problem since late October which is keeping him sidelined.

Another one to add to the missing list for this game is the man who has replaced them so effectively. Isaiah Jones has started the season in excellent form with four goals, two of which came in the 4-0 demolition of Preston, but picked up his fifth yellow card of the season against Leeds which will see him serve a one match suspension.

The pacy winger was Middlesbrough’s dribbling output, ranking eighth in the league for midfielders on successful dribbles, whilst also contributing to their press with high numbers of tackles (27) and duels won (63)

That leaves three options into two positions for this game in Morgan Rogers, Sam Greenwood and Samuel Silvera.

Twenty-three-year-old Silvera joined this summer from Central Coast Mariners. He scored 10 goals in 54 appearances for the Australian side and has been slowly eased into his first season in English football with mainly substitute appearances.

He has been heavily involved in Boro’s cup run, however, and has two goals in four Carabao Cup appearances. He could be called on more given the lack of other options and will hope to take that chance to force his way into the side. He’s probably the least likely to start against Ipswich but could see good minutes off the bench.

Greenwood on the other hand is in a fine vein of form with six goal involvements (four goals and two assists) in his last eight games. He had to sit out the last match as it was against his parent club Leeds, so will be fresh coming into this one.

He’s played all of his games so far on the left-hand side, as has Morgan Rogers, but with the form Greenwood is in it probably makes sense to keep him in his most natural position for this one.

This means Rogers will likely be moved out to the right-hand side. The 21-year-old joined in the summer from Manchester City following a Championship loan spell at Blackpool last year that earned praise even though he didn’t hit prolific numbers.

He’s clearly a bright prospect and has played across the front three this season as a centre forward, an attacking midfielder and cutting in from the left-hand side.

He’ll likely add another position to this list at the weekend as he has played right wing during his 2020/21 loan spell at Bournemouth so is more than capable of filling in there.

Rogers will look to continue to bring the passing threat from that side that he has so far this season. He currently ranks seventh in key passes for all forwards with 15.

With those three options left on the wings, it’s very much one into two for the centre forward position with Emanuael Latte Lath likely to keep the shirt following a brace against Leeds.

Those two took his total for the season to four following his move from Atalanta. He only made three appearances for the Serie A side and had a whopping eight loan spells away from the club. The latest of those was to Swiss side FC St Gallen where he scored 16 in 34 appearances.

His two against Leeds showed off all of his skills with his first coming after he’d chopped inside from the left before drilling a shot past Illan Meslier at his near post. His second he lost his marker at a corner and glanced a header into the far post, which shows the strength of his all-round game.

This means 20-year-old Josh Coburn is likely to be on the bench. The 6ft 3in tall striker is coming into this season off the back of a successful League One loan spell with Bristol Rovers last year where he scored 10 goals in 40 games but led the line well with his powerful running and hold up play.

He’s started this season well with a brace against Plymouth in a man of the match performance a highlight as he’s rotated in and out of the team with Latte Lath. He’s not as natural a finisher as the Ivorian but makes up for it with his work rate and hold up play.

Young Irishman Alexander Gilbert is also in the squad but has only averaged 11 minutes per game in his three appearances so far and is clearly seen as more of one for the future having been picked up on a free following his release by West Brom this summer.

The Teams

Following back-to-back wins at Portman Road it seems unlikely there will be too many unenforced changes. One enforced change will be needed with Massimo Luongo picking up his fifth yellow card of the season.

Dom Ball and Jack Taylor are the options to replace him with Lee Evans still out with an injury and with Middlesbrough’s injuries I think this is the perfect time for Taylor to make his case for inclusion once again.

Brandon Williams also picked up his fifth yellow card of the season, so that means Harry Clarke's spot is safe.

I think Axel Tuanzebe will be looked at to get more minutes in this one or Watford, but my money is on Tuesday night’s game with an unchanged back five starting this one.

Given the form of the front five as well I think there’s unlikely to be any changes on that front either.

For Boro, injuries and suspensions are really hitting. Dieng will likely continue in goal, the back four will then depend on the fitness of Fry and McNair.

If both of those are out then Hayden Coulson might be asked to fill in at right-back. However if Fry is fit then Van den Berg will likely move back out to right-back with Fry and Clarke the only fit centre-backs.

It’s between Bangura and Engel at left-back and I can see Engel coming back in for this one now he’s fit again.

The midfield picks itself with Howson and Barlaser starting to form a partnership with Hackney out.

In front of them, Greenwood is likely to start on the left, Crooks down the middle and Rogers playing in his less preferred right wing position with Latte Lath up front.

Action Areas

I described Crooks as the number 10 earlier in this piece, which in terms of natural positions is the closest fit, but he often plays very much on the right-hand side with Middlesbrough’s formation heavily focused on overloading that area.

Van den Berg pushes a lot higher than his left-back counterpart up by the right winger with Crooks also coming across to that side to create the triangles. It also allows Greenwood or whoever plays as the inverted left winger to tuck in very narrow, sometimes even in behind Latte-Lath.

That will put a lot of pressure on Town’s left-hand side, but this is something that Davis and Burgess have both coped with incredibly well in recent games.

What that will do is free up a whole bunch of space down Town’s right-hand side. Going forward Harry Clarke and Wes Burns have become more and more in sync since the latter's return from injury.

With Chaplin also coming across to the right more in recent games, those three could be Town’s way at goal in this one.

I think Middlesbrough’s injuries will have a big impact on this, especially defensively and with a patched-up squad I can see Town continuing their form and get back to winning ways on the road after three games without victory. I’m going for a 2-0 win.

Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.

hyperbrit added 07:27 - Dec 9
"Going forward Harry Clarke and Wes Burns have become more and more in sync since the latter's return from injury. "...'nuff said
You need to login in order to post your comments

Blogs 295 bloggers

About Us Contact Us Terms & Conditions Privacy Cookies Advertising
© TWTD 1995-2024