The interesting tactical decisions Neil Warnock made at Plymouth Argyle as trialist and new signing feature
More minutes in the tank. A debut goal for the team’s new signing and another win to boost morale. Neil Warnock will have been satisfied with his side’s final pre-season friendly in the South West.
Middlesbrough completed their week-long trip to Cornwall with a 2-1 win over League One side Plymouth Argyle at Home Park.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic as Argyle defender Macaulay Gillesphey headed the hosts level 12 minutes after half-time, cancelling out Matt Crooks’ first-half opener.
Crooks only joined Boro on Friday morning and was thrust straight into Boro’s midfield at Home Park.
The former Rotherham midfielder often took up positions Marcus Tavernier would usually find himself in, and it was the latter who secured Boro’s victory with a fine finish on 68 minutes.
Warnock handed starts to both Crooks and trialist Jamie Paterson, who has been training with the club in Cornwall.
There were also some notable absentees as Hayden Coulson and Lewis Wing were left out of the matchday squad.
Coulson has been heavily linked with a loan move to Ipswich, while Wing, who has impressed in pre-season so far, has picked up an injury.
Despite making a shaky start, Boro took control of the game and opened the scoring on 15 minutes when Ikpeazu, who was a handful up front, cut the ball back for Crooks, who finished with a low first-time effort.
Neither goalkeeper had much to do for the remainder of the first half, yet Plymouth drew level 12 minutes after half-time when Gillesphey jumped above Crooks to head home a corner.
Warnock elected not to make any changes at the break but did introduce several players in the second half.
It meant Tavernier moved into a central position, where he tried to play a one-two with substitute Jeremy Sivi, before the ball bounced back to him and the midfielder finished with aplomb.
As he did against Tavistock AFC last time out, Warnock deployed a system which included a back three and wing-backs in 3-4-1-2 formation.
Paterson and Crooks took it in turns to play as an advanced midfielder behind Ikpeazu and Duncan Watmore, while Tavernier started the match as a left wing-back.
Plymouth were keen to try and play out from the back where possible, which did gift opportunities for Boro to run at the hosts’ back three.
The likes of McNair, Crooks and Morsy looked comfortable on the ball as the visitors built up pressure, while Tavernier’s runs opened up gaps in the final third.
With Morsy playing as the only holding midfielder, there were times when Boro were stretched as Plymouth broke forward, which sometimes resulted in fouls from the Egyptian international.
Boro’s back three of Grant Hall, Dael Fry and Paddy McNair provided a good balance, as the trio swept up danger.
At the other end of the pitch Tavernier was the match winner and gave the Teessiders a creative spark after switching from left wing-back into a central role.
Crooks also showed what he’s capable of, providing a goal threat from midfield.
Boro have two more friendly matches before their season opener at Fulham on Sunday, August 8.
Warnock’s side will travel to York (Tuesday, July 27) and Rotherham (Friday, August 30) next week to step up their pre-season preparations.