Middlesbrough Q&A: Have we seen the last of Britt Assombalonga at Boro and why did Neil Warnock change formation at Millwall?
Middlesbrough missed the chance to close the gap on the Championship play-off places as they were beaten 1-0 at Millwall on Saturday – a result which raised several questions.
The Teessiders are now six points off the top six with eight games remaining and have just under two weeks until their next game at Bournemouth due to international fixtures.
We take a closer look at some of the big questions and talking points for Neil Warnock’s side:
Have we seen the last of Britt Assombalonga at Boro?
Warnock’s response when asked about the striker’s omission at Millwall was certainly telling.
The Boro boss confirmed Assombalonga was available for selection but was left behind in place of 18-year-old Josh Coburn, who took his place in the senior matchday squad for just the second time.
It seems clear that Warnock has lost faith in Assombalonga, who was given the captain’s armband at the start of an underwhelming season but has scored just five goals in 29 league appearances.
With his contract up at the end of the season, it would be a big surprise if Assombalonga was offered a new deal, especially given he would have to take a wage cut.
Has he played his last game for the club? With eight games to go, he could still feature before the end of the campaign, and you’d think he’s keen to prove himself for potential suitors.
Clearly, though, Assombalonga has dropped down the pecking order at Boro and is unlikely to start unless there are injuries.
Why did Warnock change his formation at Millwall?
Boro had performed well in a 4-3-3 system against Preston and Stoke, so it was a little surprising to see them revert to a back three and wing-backs at Millwall.
The plan was to match the hosts up, and we’ve seen plenty of times this season when Warnock has deployed man-to-man marking tactics.
“I thought our strikers and wide players could get at them and cause them trouble,” said Warnock when asked why he changed his system. “Just shows what I know.”
Warnock has done an excellent job to get Boro to the cusp of the play-offs this season, yet in hindsight it was probably a mistake to change shape, while dropping the likes of Sam Morsy, Neeskens Kebano and Darnell Fisher.
It seemed Boro were too concerned about their opponents rather than their own strengths and Millwall were able to take advantage.
Does the international break come at a good or bad time?
You can look at it both ways. Boro have been pretty good at bouncing back from disappointing results this season, while it’s frustrating heading into a two-week break after such a flat performance.
Yet it will allow some extra time on the training pitch, which has been reduced due to the busy schedule this season, as Boro prepare for the final eight games.
Marcus Tavernier also went off with a hamstring issue against Millwall, with the full extent of the setback still unknown.
I think most Boro fans will accept the side isn’t quite good enough to go up this season, but while it’s still mathematically possible, the players should be giving everything they’ve got to stay in contention.