Match Preview | Middlesbrough vs. City
Middlesbrough would appear to have done enough to avoid the drop this season, having moved on to the 50-point mark following their 2-1 victory over Reading in midweek.
The Teessiders gave Jonathan Woodgate the benefit of the doubt throughout lockdown, though on returning to action last month and incurring a 3-0 home defeat to Swansea in their first game back, the former Boro, Spurs and Real Madrid defender was given his marching orders.
Neil Warnock arrived at the Riverside Stadium on June 23rd entrusted with keeping Boro in the Championship. Long-time lieutenants Kevin Blackwell and Ronnie Jepson have joined him on the eight-game mission and with a five-point gap on 22nd placed Hull City and six points left on offer they would appear to have done all but enough.
In theory, Warnock’s task at Boro was simple: sure up the defence and grind out those points that Boro hadn’t previously appeared capable of getting.
Woodgate’s Boro had been wildly inconsistent, not picking up a win between the turn of the year and a March 7th victory away to fellow relegation-threatened club, Charlton Athletic. That victory at The Valley probably protracted Woodgate’s departure and kept him in post until the resumption of action last month. The abject defeat to Swansea on June 20th was, though, the final straw.
Warnock has had the required effect on a somewhat imbalanced and low in confidence squad. Since he took the reins, Boro have won three and lost three, securing nine points that will surely keep them in the second tier for next term.
Ones to watch
Former West Ham man (and Sunderland loanee) Ashley Fletcher leads the way in the scoring charts for Boro this term, his equaliser at Reading on Tuesday his 11th strike of the campaign to date.
Indeed, Boro have real quality in attack. Former Nottingham Forest man Britt Assombalonga, a £15m signing back in July 2017 has contributed a further nine strikes, whilst on loan Manchester City strikers Lukas Nmecha and Patrick Roberts (who scored the winner in midweek) have pedigree of the highest order.
There is quality in midfield for Boro too, with the likes of Paddy McNair, Adam Clayton, Jonny Howson and James Tavernier proving there’s enough clout behind the front line to cause problems. Options are limited for them defensively, but their 54 goals conceded thus far place them 10th amongst goals conceded by Championship teams - a staggering 34 fewer than Hull City, just five points below them in the division.
In the hotseat
There’s little that Cardiff City fans don’t know about Neil Warnock. Having succeeded Paul Trollope as Bluebirds manager in October 2016, it was he who led City to promotion back to the Premier League in May 2018.
Warnock’s managerial career began with Gainsborough Trinity back in 1980 and he has subsequently managed 14 teams since. He holds the record number of promotions, our 2017/18 triumph being his eighth.
As to how long his stint at Middlesbrough will last remains to be seen. The first objective would have been Championship survival this term which he appears to have achieved on Teesside with two games left to play.