A remarkable turnaround and an inspired signing: Middlesbrough's end of season awards in Neil Warnock's first full campaign
Middlesbrough’s season came to an underwhelming end at the weekend – and it was a campaign full of ups and downs for Neil Warnock’s side.
The Teessiders finished 10th in the Championship table – a significant improvement on last season – yet it was a disappointing conclusion given the impressive first half of the campaign.
Here, our Boro writer Joe Nicholson has dished out his end-of-season awards, as well as picking out some of the highs and lows.
Player of the season – Paddy McNair
The only player who has played and started every Championship game for Boro this season – while also playing regularly for Northern Ireland.
McNair solved a potential problem for Warnock at the start of the campaign when the 26-year-old was deployed as a right-sided centre-back to give the Teessiders security in defence.
His performances were excellent, as the role allowed McNair to step out from the back while still using his effective crossing ability – which he has also demonstrated from set-pieces.
For me, McNair looks a better fit playing in a back three and it will be interesting to see where Warnock plays him next season when Dael Fry, Grant Hall and Anfernee Dijksteel are all available again.
McNair has also performed well in midfield, yet Warnock has always said it’s his preference to play him at the back.
The likes of Fry, Dijksteel and Marcus Tavernier have also enjoyed very good seasons and made significant improvements.
Young player of the season – Marcus Tavernier
Tavernier has become such a key part of this Boro side it’s easy to forget he’s only just turned 22.
Boro missed the midfielder massively during the final few weeks of the season, due to injury, as the side’s play-off hopes fizzled out.
Tavernier was often the link between Boro’s attackers and midfield, with his energy and dynamism giving the Teessiders more of a threat in the final third.
Warnock will be looking to bolster his options in attacking midfield this summer, yet Tavernier has proved he’s ready to be a key player at Championship level.
The 22-year-old will want to improve his final product, though, after registering three league goals and four assists.
Warnock said earlier in the season he was encouraging Tavernier to take less touches and more shots at goal – an area which will surely be worked on.
Surprise of the season – Marc Bola
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for the 23-year-old left-back who was struggling to get in the Blackpool team during a loan spell last season.
Warnock has even admitted he didn’t think Bola looked ready for the Championship when the player returned for pre-season training last summer, yet the defender has become Boro’s first-choice left-back.
After receiving his first league start of the season against Barnsley in October, Bola started 40 of Boro’s remaining 42 league games, and captained the side in January’s FA Cup game at Brentford.
The defender has shown his versatility, playing as a left-sided centre-back, wing-back and as a natural full-back, proving to be a solid defensive option.
Bola has also contributed at the other end of the pitch, most notably his stunning strike against Reading in a 2-0 win at the Madejski Stadium.
Signing of the season – Duncan Watmore
It says a lot that Watmore only joined Boro in November and still finished as the club’s top scorer with nine goals.
That is partly down to others underperforming but also shows the immediate impact the former Sunderland man made.
After training with Boro on trial for a few weeks, the forward signed a two-month deal at the Riverside and scored five goals in six starts.
He then had better financial offers to go elsewhere but decided to stay on Teesside where he had become a popular figure in the dressing room.
Watmore’s work rate and attitude has been repeatedly praised by Warnock, who wants to bring in more characters like the 27-year-old. He’s been an inspired signing.
Moment of the season – Upsetting Swansea
There are a few memorable victories from this season, with convincing wins over Birmingham and Millwall standing out. Personally, that 2-0 win at Reading goes down as the best away day this season.
But a moment which sticks out is when Boro nullified an in-form Swansea side at the Riverside in December.
The Swans would have gone top with a win, and the talk pre-match was about how Warnock would set up defensively following an injury to Dijksteel.
To the surprise of many, the Boro boss played Bola as a left-sided centre-back for the first time, and the defender was superb against Swansea talisman Andre Ayew.
After two goals from Watmore, Boro were left hanging on to a 2-1 lead when substitute Yan Dhanda pulled a goal back 12 minutes from time.
Warnock’s side were throwing bodies on the line to keep the visitors out, and it would have been even more captivating with fans in the ground.
When the full-time whistle went Warnock spun towards the dugout and gave a big fist pump. You can only imagine the response that would have received from supporters.
Lowlight of the season – Stunned by Bristol City
Unfortunately there were a few as we moved into the second half of the campaign.
The 3-0 defeats against Preston and Rotherham were hugely damaging, with the latter coming just days after Boro’s defeat against Blackburn, when Dael Fry suffered that horrible injury.
But a lowlight which really stood out was a 3-1 defeat by Bristol City in February.
It’s probably because it came just days after the Reading win, when Boro had played so well and appeared to be back in with a shot of finishing in the play-offs.
City were without a manager and had lost their last six but tore Boro apart with three goals in 16 first-half minutes.
The season fizzled out after that.