Middlesbrough’s 2-0 win over Millwall at The Den on Wednesday afternoon saw Head Coach Neil Warnock employ a different set of tactics.
With Warnock having opted for a 4-4-2 formation in his first three games in charge, Middlesbrough instead changed to a 5-3-2 formation for the trip to Millwall.
Boro’s success over the Christmas period under previous boss Jonathan Woodgate, where his side triumphed over the likes of West Brom and Preston North End, saw Middlesbrough employ the 5-3-2 setup. However, in the following months, Woodgate diverted back to the 4-2-3-1, which didn’t seem to have the same effect.
Middlesbrough have a very limited number of wide players at the club, and Warnock has played Patrick Roberts and Hayden Coulson out wide in recent outings. Roberts is naturally a number 10, and Coulson is naturally a left-back, therefore highlighting the problem.
But against Millwall, 5-3-2 allowed wing-backs Djed Spence and Marvin Johnson to provide the width, get up and down the pitch, and if they were caught out of position, there were the three central-defenders to mop up.
Although Roberts has been one of Middlesbrough’s best players since the restart, he missed out at Millwall. But the midfield three of Paddy McNair, George Saville, and Jonny Howson all worked tirelessly throughout – battling, putting in tackles and winning second balls. This is what Boro need between now and the end of the season.
The spine of the team then becomes sturdier. Today Middlesbrough looked defensively strong with George Friend, Ryan Shotton, and Dael Fry as the back-three, had three workhorses in midfield, and a solid Championship strikeforce in Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher, both of whom got on the scoresheet.
Boro must take this blueprint into their remaining fixtures, starting with Bristol City at the weekend.