Middlesbrough verdict: Toothless up front and sloppy at the back. The two areas Neil Warnock desperately needs to strengthen
ANALYSIS: Joe Nicholson assesses Middlesbrough’s 2-0 defeat at Barnsley.
For weeks Neil Warnock has been talking about needing to strengthen his attacking options for next season, yet the Middlesbrough boss will know that’s not the only concern.
When everyone is fit, Boro appear to have some very capable players at Championship level, but the lack of a natural centre forward and convincing number one goalkeeper have proved costly this season.
A 2-0 defeat at Barnsley was more evidence of the two glaring areas Warnock will be looking to improve for the 2020/21 campaign.
The absence of a frontman who could win headers and hold the ball up was obvious at Oakwell, while a costly error from Marcus Bettinelli, when he allowed Alex Mowatt’s second-half corner to beat him, led to the opener.
Daryl Dike’s header 15 minutes from time made sure it was another disappointing afternoon for Warnock’s side. It's now four games without a win.
Marcus Browne summed it up perfectly when the injured Middlesbrough winger tweeted midway through the first half. ‘Football match or head tennis?,’ he posted.
The ball spent more time in the air in the opening 45 minutes as chances came at a premium. It was a tough watch at times.
Warnock’s options were clearly limited due to injuries and the Boro bench only showed six out of a possible nine substitutes.
Interestingly, Britt Assombalonga was recalled to the bench after four games out of the matchday squad, while Chuba Akpom returned to the starting XI.
Boro’s best chance of the opening 45 minutes fell to George Saville, who nodded a floating ball into the hands of goalkeeper Brad Collins following Toby Sibbick’s backwards header.
At the other end, Michal Helik’s low shot was held by Bettinelli.
It was a similar story at the start of the second half, until a forgettable moment for the Boro keeper.
The man between the sticks failed to deal with Alex Mowatt’s in-swinging corner from the left as he collided with Paddy McNair as was beaten for the opener.
Barnsley’s second came when Callam Brittain’s cross was headed home by Dike at the back post.
Warnock resisted the temptation to match Barnsley up and play with a back three.
Chuba Akpom for Sam Morsy was Boro’s only change from the side which drew with Watford last time out, as the visitors played with a 4-2-3-1 system, with Djed Spence on the right and Neeskens Kebano on the left.
In truth, Boro’s wingers were hardly involved as it was fired from one half of the pitch to the other.
With Barnsley operating in a 3-4-3 system, both sides looked to launch the ball forward quickly and back up play.
The hosts possessed more strength and firepower up front and eventually it told.
Grant Hall was excellent for Boro in the first half and kept Barnsley dangerman Dike on the fringes.
The Boro centre-back has produced a string of impressive performances in recent weeks and was commanding in the air yet again.
Boro’s season appears to be petering out with five games remaining.
Warnock’s side will now have a week to prepare for a home meeting with QPR.