Middlesbrough verdict: How Neil Warnock's side played into Millwall's hands as Boro fail to put pressure on Reading and Bournemouth

ANALYSIS: Joe Nicholson assesses Middlesbrough’s 1-0 defeat at Millwall.

Saturday, 20th March 2021, 6:43 pm

Two steps forward, one step back.

Middlesbrough’s dwindling play-off hopes may have taken a fatal blow at Millwall – the Teessiders’ inconsistencies once again proving costly.

After back-to-back home wins over Stoke and Preston had revived hopes that a late push for the top six may be possible, this 1-0 defeat at The Den was hugely disappointing.

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Mason Bennett of Millwall battles for possession with Marc Bola of Middlesbrough.
Mason Bennett of Millwall battles for possession with Marc Bola of Middlesbrough.

Boro never really got going in the first half, as a Grant Hall own goal proved the difference between the two sides.

This was an opportunity for Neil Warnock’s side to apply more pressure on the teams above them ahead of next weekend's international break – instead they will be wondering what might have been.

Middlesbrough’s attacking woes

During a first half of few goalscoring opportunities, Boro failed to register a single shot on target.

The best opportunities went the way of the hosts as Marcus Bettinelli made a fine low save to deny Jed Wallace. Gary Rowett’s side looked a threat on the break.

It was another counter attack which led to the opening goal as Djed Spence lost possession to Millwall’s Billy Mitchell and the 19-year-old played the ball forward for Wallace.

With Jonny Howson to beat, the Lions forward burst down the left and his low cross was inadvertently turned into Boro’s net by Hall. It had been coming.

There was another blow for Boro shortly before half time when Marcus Tavernier was forced off with a hamstring injury and replaced by George Saville.

Warnock made three more changes at half time as Nathanial Mendez-Laing replaced Spence on the right, while Duncan Watmore and Ashley Fletcher came on for Yannick Bolasie and Chuba Akpom up front. The pair had hardly been involved.

The changes allowed Boro to advance into more dangerous areas in the second half, yet a lack of quality in the final third proved costly.

Neil Warnock’s selection call

After making three changes from Boro’s 2-0 win over Preston, Warnock reverted to a back three and wing-backs to match Millwall up.

Marc Bola moved across to play on the left of a back three while Marvin Johnson and Djed Spence were recalled to play on the flanks.

Yet the change of shape appeared to play into Millwall’s hands, with the Lions winning their individual battles following the man-to-man approach.

Akpom and Bolasie played as a front two but struggled to win headers against Millwall’s three centre-backs, while Boro’s passing was ponderous and uninventive.

The triple substitution at half-time helped Boro take control of the game, with Watmore looking lively and Mendez-Laing operating high up the pitch on the right.

In contrast, Millwall dropped deeper and were able to withstand the Teessiders’ early second-half pressure.

Grant Hall looks solid despite own goal

Despite Hall’s own goal, Boro’s centre-backs were once again dominant in the air.

Fry and Hall won the majority of their headers against Millwall frontman Mason Bennett, while goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli made a couple of important saves.

Duncan Watmore made an impact after coming off the bench and was probably Boro’s best attacking performer.

Reading and Barnsley drop points

Boro won’t play again until Friday, April 2 due to international fixtures.

Warnock’s side will travel to Bournemouth but are six points off the play-offs with nine games remaining.

Play-off rivals Reading and Barnsley dropped points but Boro couldn’t capitalise.

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