Middlesbrough prospect should start against Sheffield Wednesday after excellent display at Rotherham United
ANALYSIS: Joe Nicholson assesses Middlesbrough’s 2-1 win at Rotherham.
Middlesbrough had to stop the rot.
Neil Warnock’s side may not have much to play for in terms of their divisional status for next season, yet a five-game winless run and reports of unrest in the dressing room were starting to derail the Teessiders.
A 2-1 win over a relegation-threatened Rotherham side may not be seen as hugely significant, yet Boro’s preparations for the 2021/22 campaign have already begun.
Warnock will be keen to rediscover some of that feel good factor which was evident early in the season.
And after a dreadful start at the New York Stadium, which saw Angus MacDonald open the scoring after just three minutes, a red card for Rotherham’s Matt Crooks put the visitors in control.
Despite playing against 10 men, Boro played some neat football and earned three points after goals from George Saville and Chuba Akpom.
That winning feeling can’t be underestimated.
Boro have made a habit of starting slowly and they’ve now conceded first in their last six matches.
The opener here came from a Rotherham corner as MacDonald towered above Bola to head home. Boro keeper Jordan Archer was left in no man’s land.
The visitors reacted well to the opener, though, and took control when Crooks was dismissed for a clash of heads with Grant Hall midway through the first half.
Crooks’ dismissal appeared harsh on the Rotherham man who appeared to have eyes for the ball. Still, the collision was a nasty one and forced Hall to be replaced by Connor Malley.
Boro played some neat football after that and drew level when Kebano found Saville following a short corner, the latter drawing Boro level with an emphatic finish.
Despite some brief Rotherham pressure, Boro maintained their momentum at the start of the second half and doubled their lead when Paddy McNair’s low cross was stabbed home by Akpom.
Warnock’s options were limited due to injuries and players being unavailable. Boro’s bench was made up of just five outfield players who didn’t have a single Championship appearance between them.
A tactical reshuffle saw Boro revert to a back three of Marc Bola, Hall and Paddy McNair, with Marvin Johnson on the left and Kebano on the right.
Rotherham started with a similar system but were forced back into a 5-4-1 shape following the red card.
Hall’s withdrawal meant Jonny Howson moved into the heart of defence, with the attack-minded Bola and McNair either side of him to make forward runs in possession.
McNair delivered some inviting crosses from the right while Johnson’s deliveries caused problems from the left.
Malley also impressed on his senior debut and produced some excellent forward passes. The midfielder should be considered for a start against Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend.
Despite playing against 10 men for most of the match, there were several impressive performances for Boro.
The Teessiders played some neat football with the ball on the deck and worked the ball to their creative players.
Kebano was the standout performer as the Fulham loanee drew defenders towards him and created chances for his team-mates.
Boro fans can only hope the 29-year-old returns to Teesside next season.
Boro could have another big say in the relegation battle when they host Sheffield Wednesday.