Middlesbrough have got off to a stuttering start under new boss Jonathan Woodgate, but a defeat to Crewe could suggest their predicament is worse than first thought.
In their three matches they have failed to keep a clean sheet and have at times lacked ideas and creativity in attack.
The squad is undergoing a transition and adjusting to a more fluid, possession-based style than they there were used to under Tony Pulis, and Woodgate shouldn’t be judged too harshly until his ideas have taken effect.
Despite that, their budget and fan expectation demands they record results soon, and there could be a negative atmosphere at the club if they quickly lose touch with the leading pack.
Boro showed some character to fight back against Crewe; coming from 2-0 down to level the scores, only to lose on penalties, and here are THREE things we learned from the match…
Middlesbrough need to be more direct in their approach
Woodgate has tried to install a passing style but so far he is yet to find a good balance between retaining possession and committing men forward in attack.
As a result, Boro at times haven’t looked threatening enough. They may have scored three against Luton but one was a goalkeeping mistake and the other an incredible strike which they can’t rely on every week.
So, they need to use the ball more efficiently and get up the pitch quicker to apply pressure on the opposition backline, which they have so far not done enough in the games they have played.
In home matches against Brentford and Crewe they have had 54% and 66% possession respectively, but had a combined eight shots on target, which is not good enough considering they were playing League Two opposition in one of those matches.
That shows that their possession isn’t equating to chances, and instead they need to utilise their quick wingers and powerful forwards. If they can get the ball to those players quickly chances will come, and with it, goals.
Woodgate needs to decide on his preferred backline
Boro have started both their league games with the same defence and whilst consistency is good, it hasn’t worked so far, and now with Anfernee Dijksteel and Marc Bola coming into the squad it raises more questions for the manager.
Added to that, Dael Fry is still yet to feature but he is due to make a return from injury soon and that will complicate matters further for Woodgate, whilst the presence of Jonny Howson at right-back is also less than ideal.
Full-back is an important position in regard to Woodgate’s style, but judging by the players he has brought in – Bola and Dijksteel – he is keen on attacking full-backs, which raises questions as to why he has opted for Friend and Howson so far, so personnel could also change in those positions.
Ashley Fletcher could be a top player this season
The forward has had a good start to the season and is already outshining the much-praised Britt Assombologa, and judging by the pair’s form it is the former who could be preferred if Woodgate switches to one upfront.
Fletcher came off the bench against Crewe and turned the game around, first pulling one back with a great strike from outside the box before a powerful run and cut back set up Boro’s equaliser. Crewe couldn’t deal with him.
He has been very inconsistent since signing for Boro but he is beginning to display his all-round game. He is big and powerful and that makes him a threat in the air but he is just as effective with the ball at his feet, partly due to a significant improvement in his dribbling ability.
If he features regularly and the team continues to play to his strengths then he could score several this season, but so far he is definitely enjoying the more expansive style under Woodgate.