Middlesbrough verdict: The key decision which helped Neil Warnock's side claim crucial Coventry City win

Neil Warnock knew this was a game his side had to win.

Wednesday, 3rd March 2021, 10:26 am

The Middlesbrough boss said a couple of weeks ago he didn’t want this season to peter out after challenging for a play-off place for most of the campaign.

Yet, in truth, anything other than three points against a relegation-threatened Coventry side would have marked a big opportunity missed, as the Teessiders cling onto the coattails of the Championship top six.

In the end, Boro got the job done, coming from behind to claim a 2-1 win.

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Grant Hall of Middlesborough scores in his side's win over Coventry.
Grant Hall of Middlesborough scores in his side's win over Coventry.

We take a closer look at some of the main talking points.

Summary

Warnock made three changes to the side which drew with Cardiff at the Riverside last time out.

Djed Spence was recalled to make his first start since January while Neeskens Kebano and Chuba Akpom also returned to the starting XI.

Slow starts have proved costly for Boro in recent months and the Teessiders have now conceded first in eight of their last 13 games.

And after allowing Cardiff to score from a long throw-in at the weekend, the same thing happened here.

This time it was Coventry’s Sam McCallum who launched the ball into the box, Michael Rose beat Akpom to win the initial header, and Anfernee Dijksteel put through his own net with Maxime Biamou applying pressure.

From there it was a tough watch as both sides went direct on a sodden and testing pitch.

Eventually, though, Boro were able to make one of Paddy McNair’s inviting free-kicks count, with Grant Hall rising high at the far post to head home.

Boro retained possession much better in the second half, and on 74 minutes, Warnock introduced Yannick Bolasie, Duncan Watmore and Marvin Johnson, while Saville later replaced Marcus Tavernier.

The changes paid off as Johnson’s neat reverse pass found Howson, who cut the ball back for Saville to convert.

Tactics

Warnock stuck with a back three and wing-backs with McNair continuing as a holding midfielder and Kebano joining Akpom up front.

The Boro boss has repeatedly highlighted his side’s lack of firepower in recent weeks and it’s clear he doesn’t possess the imposing frontman he craves.

That was evident as Kebano and Akpom struggled to win headers against Coventry’s three centre-backs.

When the two sides met at the Riverside back in October, Boro found success by pressing the Sky Blues high up the pitch as Mark Robins’ side tried to play out from the back.

That approach didn’t have the desired effect here, as Coventry also tried to bypass midfield with direct passes up to frontmen Biamou and Tyler Walker.

The visitors’ substitutions gave them fresh impetus in the final third, as Bolasie, Watmore and Johnson were able to stretch Coventry’s weary backline which eventually cracked.

Some may argue the changes should have come sooner, yet the decision to make multiple substitutes eventually paid off.

Star man

Hall has hardly put a foot wrong in his three appearances since returning from injury.

The commanding centre-back was key again here, winning the majority of his defensive headers to keep Coventry at bay.

His goal came at a crucial time.

What’s next?

Boro will now prepare for another away game against promotion-chasing Swansea this weekend.

After Cardiff’s 4-0 win over Derby, anything other than a win would have seriously dented Boro’s play-off hopes.

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