Luton Town 3-3 Middlesbrough Player Ratings: McManaman magic

Collins celebrates – https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport

The 2019-20 Championship campaign began with what could be one of the greatest games of the season, as Luton Town made their Championship bow with a highly-enterprising performance in a 3-3 draw with Middlesbrough, led by Jonathan Woodgate for the first time. Here’s our Player Ratings from a wonderful encounter.

Luton Town

Simon Sluga – the Croat became Luton’s record signing this summer after signing from Rijeka; perhaps this performance was not quite the one to show why the Hatters spent €1.5M on the 26-year-old, with Sluga unfortunately spilling Assombalonga’s simple effort inside his near-post. Could not have done two much about the other goals though and made two point-blank stops with 10 minutes remaining, which ultimately proved important. 5

Martin Cranie – although the defender arrived from Sheffield United with plenty of experience, there were fears that he might not quite provide the pace and width required to make the diamond system work as Jack Stacey did; in practice, McManaman’s work spared him of that responsibility, so he was able to just support play from behind. Headed home Shinnie’s first-half corner to put the Hatters in front. 6
Matty Pearson – the tall centre-back might have got closer to Ashley Fletcher for the opener, but in fairness to the ex-Stanley man he also made several important interventions in the first half. Towards the end of the second, he found himself somewhat swamped without the required protection. 6
Sonny Bradley – what a hit! Sometimes in football, we analyse the game in great detail and rightly so, yet this goal was also a reminder of the beautiful spontaneity of the game, how it can produce an outcome nobody predicts. That goal alone won him the club’s official man-of-the-match award – although there were more suitable candidates. 6
Dan Potts – there was uncertainty as to whether Potts would start over Brendan Galloway; the left-back took his time to justify Jones’ judgement and was not as involved in the game as he would have liked in the first three-quarters of the contest. In the final quarter, though, he was very heavily involved; played a part in Collins’ equalizer after seeing his shot blocked, then bravely carried on playing when he picked up an injury with no substitute options left. 6

Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu – the midfielder’s start tonight means he has now played for the Hatters in four different divisions. Although Mpanzu looked a very athletic player earlier in his career, there now appears to be a certain element of relaxation about his game which, perhaps, his natural ability made up for in the lower divisions but in the Championship, his tendency to give possession away cheaply was more of a danger. 5

Andrew Shinnie – the midfielder was used as a number 10 at Birmingham, but Graeme Jones appears to like him dropping deeper to sweep up second balls. That had it’s advantages here, as Shinnie was part of a midfield that control long portions of the contest – an the ex-Inverness playmaker’s set pieces were excellent. Although, there were one or two moments at which he was a tad careless when playing out from the back. 7
Ryan Tunnicliffe – on tonight’s evidence, Millwall made a mistake letting Tunnicliffe go. The dynamic midfielder was a real asset with his driving runs deep in the opposing half, but there were times when Luton were playing out lackadaisically when they arguably needed his tenacity and covering work in a slightly deeper position to stabilize the situation when Boro broke. In some ways, Tunnicliffe’s main fault here was that he couldn’t be in two places at once! 8

Elliot Lee – the diminutive forward was perhaps not quite as influential in terms of Luton’s chance creation as McManaman, but still he took his opportunities to capitalize on Collins’ decoy runs away from goal and move into the space, even if his use of the ball was selfless rather than spectacular. Will want to build on this first outing at this level. 5

Callum McManaman – with the cautious Cranie at right-back, McManaman had the insurance to press, drive and create from the right flank as he pleased and that freeing remit seemed to draw the best out of the ex-Wigan man, who produced the best individual performance of the match. Without being directly involved in any of the goals, he was so important to Luton’s general attacking performance; would have grabbed an assist if Collins’ goal was not disallowed. 9
James Collins – had a goal ruled out for handball early in the second half and rightly so. However, Collins’ overall performance was arguably deserving of a goal; he pressed the left-side of Boro’s backline with ferocity from the get-go, sometimes selflessly occupying the left channel to allow Lee to maraud inside. Switched over to the right just before the hour mark to keep Boro guessing. 8

Jacob Butterfield (on 60) – the midfielder certainly has knowhow at Championship level, but seemed slightly off the pace when he came on. 5
Harry Cornick (on 68) – the ex-Bournemouth man was deployed as a withdrawn forward at times last season and performed very well; here, he certainly staked a claim to get back in the starting XI with a positive impact from the bench. 7
George Moncur (on 74) – the attacking midfielder showed his quality in League One last season and more than deserves his chance at this level which, tonight, he grabbed with both hands. Moncur displayed sharp movement with a real creative eye in the final quarter-hour. 7

Middlesbrough

Darren Randolph – the former Birmingham stopper has been among the most consistent goalkeepers in the Championship and while he has produced better performances than we saw here, he did not make any overt blunders and should not be blamed too much for any of the three goals he conceded. 5

Jonny Howson – the seasoned midfielder impressed at right-back in pre-season but struggled to replicate those displays here. The main advantage of having him in this position, in theory, would be better quality of passing than the average right-back but Howson’s use of the ball was surprisingly off-key until the last half hour, when he started to make some positive inverted runs into the final third. 5
Daniel Ayala – a few years ago, Ayala was seen as a reliable Championship performer but the Spaniard appears to have slipped somewhat in recent seasons, perhaps deterred by injuries and this was not the most convincing performance. 4
Ryan Shotton – the former Birmingham defender has looked suspect in pre-season and again tonight; when Dael Fry is back fit, it might not be too long before he comes back into the starting XI. 4
Hayden Coulson – in the first half, Boro’s structural issues meant they could not quite get Coulson on the game in the way they wanted too and thus he struggled defensively to handle McManaman. In the second half, though, he had more opportunities to get forward; he forced a flap from Sluga with a dangerous cross just after the hour mark, then won a penalty in the closing stages after doing well to get that important first-touch in the box. A positive first appearance at this level. 7

Paddy McNair – the former Manchester United man started out as a ball-playing centre-back, but one might argue he is wasted that far deep, because his natural instinct is to maraud forward with the ball and make positive runs. He took his time to display those qualities here, but grew into the contest from the 40-minute mark, rattling the bar shortly after the interval. 6
Adam Clayton – the long-serving midfielder has been a very important player to Middlesbrough over the years, but this was a quiet display from the veteran. 4
Lewis Wing – this was initially a quiet opening night performance from Wing, who showed a willingness to dig in and track back. In the second half, though, he began to show more confidence in possession and that was reflected in his winner just after the second half’s midway point, showing exquisite vision to place the ball into the top corner from distance. 7

Ashley Fletcher – the athletic forward was a threat from crosses, heading home Johnson’s delivery from close-range early on. Fletcher was, though, a largely peripheral figure thereon – would he have been better off acting as the main striker in a pressing system? 5
Britt Assombalonga – Jonathan Woodgate clearly has unerring faith in Assombalonga and that is understandable; his goalscoring record at this level speaks for itself. The former Forest front-man though was wasteful tonight – his goal was very fortunate and he missed a penalty along with various other presentable opportunities late on. Arguably lacks certain qualities to press from the front with the ferocity Woodgate requires. 4
Marvin Johnson – the wide man produced one of the better individual performance of his Championship career, with a pinpoint cross for Fletcher’s opener – Johnson looked the most likely player to create anything for Boro out of the blue in a collectively poor first half. He’s given himself an opportunity to maintain a starting berth. 7

Marcus Browne (on 69) – the West Ham loanee fared superbly at Oxford last season and he relished his first Championship appearance here; Browne’s driving runs, creativity and eye for goal can make him a real asset and he was straight into the fray as soon as coming on, nearly winning a free-kick. 6
George Saville (on 86) – the midfielder did not quite hit the heights some expected of him after his move from Millwall, but his quality in possession and willingness to make brave off-the-ball runs is arguably more suited to Woodgate’s style of management – this could be his year. 6