Middlesbrough 2-0 Huddersfield Town: Dismal away form continues
Following an excellent 3-1 victory against Watford, the only change that Town made was the inclusion of Jonathan Hogg for Oscar Gobern. This wasn’t a surprise as Hogg’s industrious work-rate and bite in midfield was key to Town’s usual success. Town lined up with the common 3-5-2 formation which Powell had championed over recent weeks. Middlesbrough on the other hand made 3 changes as Aitor Karanka brought Kike, Clayton and Tomlin back into the fold.
Tale of the tie:
Middlesbrough started the game confidently, they maintained possession well and both Kalas and Friend were providing additional width as both Bamford and Adomah looked willing to cut inside and drive at the Town defence. Although Town had maintained some composure despite the lack of possession, Mark Hudson looked to be struggling with the movement of Kike and it only took 7 minutes for Kike to carve out his first chance as he skipped around Hudson’s challenge and his long-range strike beat Smithies but hit the post. Middlesbrough continued to pile on the pressure and search for the opening goal of the afternoon, Bamford was the next to try his luck however his shot from the edge of the box sailed over the crossbar. It took Town until the 13th minute to have their first proper foray into Middlesbrough’s half, Robinson surged forward and Kalas defended well to block the shot and concede the corner.
Nothing came from the corner how only a few minutes later, Wells was scythed down by Gibson when on the counter and earned the first yellow card of the game. Town’s momentum quickly swung back into Boro’s favour and in the 20th minute, following a quick throw in it looked like Lynch mistimed a challenge and took down Albert Adomah in the box however Peter Bankes said that it was nothing doing. Moments later, Middlesbrough should’ve taken the lead, Town’s soft underbelly which was defending set-pieces came to afore once again, a Leadbitter cross picked out Bamford who glanced his header wide when he should’ve done better.
A key moment came in the 24th minute when Vaughan was clattered by Kalas and lead him to be substituted, Powell opted to bring on Gobern for Vaughan, although it was probably the correct decision considering the fact that Town’s midfield had been overrun by Middlesbrough and Town had struggled to get into the game. It also allowed Butterfield to get further forward but with the likes of Joe Lolley, Radi Majewski and even Phillip Billing on the bench to bring on, it seemed to be a negative ‘safe’ substitution. The game had turned scrappy which Town probably hoped for, Town looked to frustrate the home fans and the side and following another stoppage with Clayton going down in the 34th minute, it appeared to be working. In the 38th minute, Town hit Boro on the counter however it Ben Gibson this time that intercepted the through-ball that Wells tried to play through.
Another injury led to a chorus of boos from the Boro faithful as Hogg went down in the 44th minute and this led to a surprise as only three minutes of injury time were added on, Wells had a shot closed down and the resulting corner was easily gathered by Konstantinopolus and that was the end of the half. Town could’ve been pleased to have not conceded despite being under sustained periods of pressure for large parts of the half especially after losing Vaughan to injury.
The second half began in a similar fashion with Lee Tomlin continuing to cause problems for Town, his forward running and willingness to take on a man was difficult for Town to handle however on this occasion, his shot grazed against the bar. Two minutes later, there was a key decision for Peter Bankes to make, it appeared that Nahki Wells had kicked out which caused him and Daniel Ayala to get in each other’s face however the referee decided to merely defuse the situation and not dish out any cards.
Town had a lot more of the ball in the second half and Butterfield was proving to Town’s best attacking outlet. However a couple of minutes later and Middlesbrough broke the deadlock, neat interplay between Kike and Tomlin led to the latter shrugging off Coady’s challenge and blasting the ball beyond the despairing reach of Smithies. Moments later, Jacob Butterfield forced Dimitros Konstantopoulos into a top draw save from a long range strike. The game now began to become stretched and Albert Adomah forced a smart save out of Smithies at the near post after a powerful surging run down the right hand side.
Another big decision for Peter Bankes came in the 75th minute when a ball in the box rebounded off Ayala’s knee into his arm, although the intention was questionable, it’s a penalty claims that have become more and more successful in recent seasons across all the leagues. Although the penalty wasn’t given, it seemed to galvanise Town and a minute later Nahki Wells had the best opportunity off the match from a Town perspective. He cut inside and his shot on his left foot bent around Konstantopoulos and struck the post, the same post that Kike had hit earlier on in the match.
Ten minutes passed and Nahki Wells had another golden opportunity, this time his volley that was heading for the far corner was palmed away by Konstantopoulos and the final action of the match was Middlebrough’s second goal, Smithies came up for the corner and as it was cleared by Ayala, it fell in Tomlin’s feet who raced up the other end of the pitch to clinically put his name on the score-sheet for the second time.
Man of the Match:
Jacob Butterfield continued to impress with consistently good performances and showing that he can be one of the best midfielders in the entire division. His willingness to run and energy and range of passing shows that how much he’s progressing and growing into his role at the heart of Town’s midfield.
Although there are obvious positives from this match, particularly the second half performance, there is still a lot to be desired and an improvement in away form will lead Town to not only be comfortably safe from relegation but also move a lot higher in the table.
Town appears to feel uncomfortable in possession and away from home struggle to break down the opposition and it will continue to be difficult without bringing in a target man that can hold the ball up and offer the physicality that we’ve been lacking since the early stages of Grant Holt’s loan spell, although this was a necessity prior to Vaughan’s injury, it now appears to be the number one priority.
Town now go into two winnable games and with the impetus that’ll be gained by fresh faces coming into the squad then I`ll be feeling a lot more confident about Wigan next weekend.
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