Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Middlesbrough's struggles in front of goal led to their relegation
Last Updated: 09/05/17 2:45pm
Middlesbrough were relegated with their 3-0 defeat at Chelsea on Monday Night Football. What went wrong for them this season? The stats highlight their biggest issue…
Middlesbrough got half the job done but it wasn't enough. Despite their heavy defeat by Chelsea, the Teessiders have let in fewer goals than any of the eight clubs above them and kept the same number of clean sheets as Arsenal and Manchester City in their first season back in the Premier League. But their struggles at the other end ultimately proved too great.
They could yet go down with the fewest goals conceded by any relegated Premier League team in history, but their defensive record is little consolation when the next column reads just 26 goals scored in 36 games. It is an even lower total than bottom club Sunderland and it proved costly.
Middlesbrough were widely tipped to survive at the start of the campaign, but the warning signs were there last season. They achieved automatic promotion without a single player reaching double figures for goals scored. David Nugent led the way with just eight in 38 appearances.
They hoped the signing of Alvaro Negredo from Valencia would transform their fortunes. The Spaniard scored on his debut in August and former manager Aitor Karanka said he could be "as good as Romelu Lukaku" a few weeks later, but he has only added eight goals in 33 games since.
Even as he struggled in the first half of the season, however, Karanka was reluctant to use his back-up options. Christian Stuani was kept on the flanks, while Jordan Rhodes and Nugent failed to score in 10 Premier League appearances between them before they were shipped out to Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County respectively.
The departures made space for January reinforcements, with Patrick Bamford arriving from Chelsea in a deal worth up to £10m and Rudy Gestede coming in from Aston Villa for £6m. The big fees brought big expectations, but the duo fared little better than the men they replaced.
Gestede's only goal in 15 appearances has come in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United, while Bamford has played just 101 Premier League minutes in five months. He has yet to start a game or even have a shot on target. "He needs to learn, he needs to improve," said Karanka before his departure. Steve Agnew evidently feels the same way.
In fact, for all their mid-season investment, Middlesbrough became even less prolific in the second half of the campaign, scoring just nine goals in 17 games compared to 17 in 19 before January. There was a win over Sunderland and draw with Manchester City last month, but Monday's defeat at Stamford Bridge was the 11th time Middlesbrough have failed to score since the turn of the year.
Boro's misfiring strikers can point to poor service in their defence, while the departed Karanka must also take a large share of the blame for setting his team up so negatively.
Boro rank 10th in the Premier League for average possession, but they have rarely used the ball effectively in attacking areas. The stats show they rank bottom for both chances created and bottom for passes ending in the attacking third. Even Sunderland have offered more penetration.
But while the negativity and the lack of creativity have undoubtedly had a knock-on effect on Middlesbrough's strikers, the fact remains that finishing has been a major issue. Scoring opportunities may have been sparse, but their shot conversion rate of 11 per cent is still the second-lowest in the Premier League. Only Southampton have been more wasteful.
In the end, the numbers added up to one big problem. Middlesbrough's fight for survival was built on solid foundations, but they head back to the Championship knowing exactly where they came up short.