The key issues Chris Wilder must address to move Middlesbrough forward
Updated: Nov 12, 2021
Boro have a new manager at the helm following Neil Warnock's dismissal, and although the club is in a much healthier position than what Warnock took it over in, there are still key issues that need to be addressed by Chris Wilder.
Let's have a look at a few of them:
Second half setbacks
It’s been known for most of the season now that Boro’s second half displays are problematic. Going into half-time leading is almost an open invitation for the opposition side to step their game up. The Boro that comes out after the interval is not the same Boro that played the half before it.
If games were to start and finish in the first half, Boro would be third on 34 points. The two teams ahead of them are the current top two: Fulham and Bournemouth. In the second half of games Boro rank 19th, with just 9 points accumulated.
Of course, football isn’t played like that and is a game of two halves, but it goes to show how big a drop off Boro have in the second half of matches.
Furthermore, Boro have conceded just two goals in the first half of games but 17 in the second.
Could this be a mentality issue? A result of the rigorous man marking system that requires optimal concentration levels that drain the players both physically and mentally? Was it team talk troubles? Could Warnock no longer motivate his players?
Whatever the issue has been, Wilder must get to the bottom of it, because if Boro can’t gain consistency in halves, then they’re not going to gain consistency in games.
Which leads very nicely into the biggest part of Boro’s problems:
Since last season’s 10 game unbeaten run between September and November, Boro haven’t been able to put a run together for love nor money. Three wins on the spin is the best we could manage, but what are those wins really worth if the form after that is peppered with draws and defeats?
Warnock was right to channel Forrest Gump and compare this side to a box of chocolates. ‘You never know what you’re gonna get’ is accurate, and although the impression itself was a little off-key, the message certainly wasn’t.
Wilder will be hoping he can drum up some momentum, because in a league where a side can start the weekend in the play-offs and finish it looking over their shoulders towards the drop zone, it isn’t half needed.
If there's one thing Wilder knows, it's how to assemble a tight knit camaraderie. He lead Oxford into the Football League and took Northampton from the bottom three of League Two to a cruising 99-point title campaign in two and a half seasons.
At Sheffield United he endured a poor start, picking up just one point in four games and suffering a defeat against Millwall that left the Blades bottom of the table. It was then that their season kickstarted.
“We had just lost in the last minute at Millwall and everyone was feeling a bit down," Billy Sharp recounted. "But about 30 seconds into the journey home he stopped the bus outside an off licence and said, ‘Right, Sharpy, go and get the beers in.’
“I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first, and wondered if it was a little test, but he wasn’t kidding. Before you know it, we went on a 15-match unbeaten run, got ourselves right in the mix and we’ve never looked back."
Maybe all that's needed at Boro is an off license and a crate of Fosters?
Injuries have been particularly prevalent over the years. Dael Fry, Anfernee Dijksteel, Marc Bola and Grant Hall have all been hit with them this season. Long-term absentees Marcus Browne, Darnell Fisher and Sammy Ameobi still haven’t recovered (fully, in the case of Browne).
Warnock brought Chris Short in to take the position of first team fitness coach and, well, nothing has really changed.
It was interesting to note Chris Wilder mention the injuries in his first interview as manager, saying: ‘There’s been far too many injuries, so we’ll have to look deeply into that.” Particularly interesting having then come across an article in The Athletic, detailing how few injuries Wilder’s Sheffield United picked up in the Premier League.
Wilder incorporates a gruelling training session into his side’s pre-season programmes. Terror Tuesday as it’s known. The squad are pushed to their physical limits, and if they aren't up to the standard then they simply have to get up to it.
Sheffield United striker Oli McBurnie said “I have never known anything like this before in my career.” He credits the sports science work - something the Blades were ‘big’ on. There are many pivotal figures behind the work of Wilder, but Matt Prestidge, who was the head of sports science at Northampton and first team coach at Sheffield United, is important here. He came up with the plans.
“There is always an element of luck in injuries,” Wilder said. “But I think there is an element of conditioning and hard work away from first team games that keeps us nice and strong.”
Pre-season has passed, but I wonder if the players will be prepped for a makeshift Terror Tuesday session sometime soon.
Boro's home form isn't terrible, but it does need to improve if they are to keep tight to the Championship top six.
As far as the home comforts goes, it's a mixed bag. Boro are 13th for results at the Riverside, and average 1.63 points per game there. It's fairly middle of the pack, but look at Coventry - their impressive campaign so far has been build on their impressive record at the CBS. In fact, they've only lost once.
Harking back to the promotion season, Boro, remarkably, only lost twice, and only conceded seven goals over the course of 22 games. That's very unlikely to be repeated, but it has set an expectation that Boro have to be hard to beat at home.
Boro have been easy to dismantle on far too many occasions this season. They're easy to 'get at', their vulnerabilities are obvious and inevitable. That has to change.
Wilder barked a rallying cry at his first press conference. "I don't want anybody coming in and rolling the ball around. They're going to have to go through all of us. They're going to have to go through the team, the staff and, more importantly, the passionate supporters."
Fortress Riverside: The Reboot.
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