Middlesbrough on the up
Middlesbrough endured a rather rough 2019/20 campaign.
The inexperienced Jonathan Woodgate was eventually sacked by the club in June after a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Swansea City.
Said defeat left Middlesbrough 21st in the Championship and with just eight league games left to play, the threat of relegation was looming.
However, Boro opted to replace Woodgate with a veteran manager, Neil Warnock.
In a very short space of time with games coming thick and fast, Warnock was able to guide the North East outfit to a 17th-place finish, picking up four wins along the way.
Now, in the 2020/21 campaign, after a brief pre-season and a bit more time with his squad, Warnock has transformed Middlesbrough into a cohesive, well set up unit that even the top sides in the Championship are struggling to break down.
Boro would begin the campaign away to recently relegated Watford. They would come away with a 1-0 loss, though the signs were certainly there that Warnock’s Boro were on the up.
There was a similar story in Middlesbrough’s following league clash, with Warnock and co. more than holding their own against a Bournemouth side pushing for promotion.
Middlesbrough have since gone on to pick up points vs QPR, Bristol City, Reading, Cardiff and Coventry.
It is also worth noting that Middlesbrough are currently the only side to have taken a single point off Reading this term whilst Boro would also hand Bristol City their first loss of the Championship campaign.
Super Paddy McNair
No player has epitomised Middlesbrough’s resurgence under Neil Warnock more than Paddy McNair.
The former Manchester United star linked up with Middlesbrough in the summer of 2018.
But despite his clear quality, McNair found a regular starting spot with Boro quite hard to come by.
Under both Tony Pulis and Jonathan Woodgate, the Northern Ireland international was used in a variety of positions including right-back, central midfield, right-mid and at centre-back.
Such a lack of consistency clearly weighed on the 25-year-old who, by in large, looked rather average for much of his time under the above-mentioned bosses.
Since Warnock has taken the reins, though, especially this season, McNair has looked a completely different player.
Despite being a central midfielder by trade, Warnock has opted, for the most part, to deploy McNair as a centre-back in a back-three/five.
McNair has gone on to excel in this role, possessing all the key qualities required of a top centre-half in the modern game including a strong aerial presence (put to the test last weekend vs Cardiff’s 6 ft 4 striker Kieffer Moore), ability to move the ball forward and a strong tackle.
McNair’s ability to float superb balls from corners, free-kicks and from deep in the opponent’s half has also been incredibly useful for Boro this term, with McNair’s assists helping Boro earn valuable points vs both QPR and Bournemouth.
After such an excellent start to the campaign, Middlesbrough fans and pundits are, unsurprisingly, waxing lyrical about the midfielder turned defender.
One man who is doing so on a weekly basis is former Middlesbrough and Southampton midfielder, Neil Maddison.
Maddison notched 55 appearances for the Teessiders between 1997 and 2001 before joining his home-town club, Darlington.
Maddison would retire with Darlington and has since taken up the role of co-commentator for the Boro games on BBC Tees, where he is often full of praise for McNair.
101 have been able to speak to the former Southampton man about McNair, who Maddison labelled excellent:
“Paddy has been excellent so far. Since that stint at the back last season he has kicked on. He has pace to burn and his awareness of what’s around him is top draw. He is also decent in the air and is a tough lad.
“His best position for me is at the back, I know he is a midfielder/forward but since he has been there he has been quality so why change it.”
Maddison was also quick to credit Neil Warnock for not only McNair, but other Boro players’ recent upturn in form:
“Neil Warnock is all about man management and making you feel like you are untouchable. I would think that’s his best trait and you can see the difference in how some players are playing, Dijksteel is an example.”
And finally, with Middlesbrough now up to 7th after their win over Coventry, Maddison voiced the opinion that should Boro have some luck with injuries, then they may surprise a few people in the promotion hunt this season:
“I think if we are in and around the play offs in January then I could see him [Warnock] wanting to kick on from there.
“The squad is small but we have some top pros with some good young lads. Stay away from the injuries and we might surprise a few people.”