Middlesbrough have marched into the play-off zone and, with a two-point lead over the chasing pack, know that their chances of staying in the top six are in their own hands.
They are currently on an unbeaten five-game run and have won their last three matches in their bid to return to the Premier League at the first time of asking following relegation last season.
They changed managers over the festive season with Garry Monk being replaced by Tony Pulis.
At the time, Boro were ninth in the table and only three points off the play-off places but Pulis has moved them into that section of the table.
Since our paths crossed again in our first season back in the second tier in 2014/15, Boro have been very much a bogey team for Brentford and we have failed to beat them in seven attempts.
They won six on the spin, including both legs of the play-offs that campaign, and we finally arrested the slump with a 2-2 draw at the Riverside in September.
Our last win over them came 11 games ago in the FA Cup in January 1964 when we won 2-1 at Griffin Park.
This season Boro have the fifth best home record in the Championshp with 11 wins and three draws from their 19 matches at the Riverside but the ninth best away record with seven wins and four draws from 18 matches on the road.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
The hugely experienced Tony Pulis was appointed as Middlesbrough manager on Boxing Day in succession to Garry Monk.
The 60-year-old has taken charge of more than 1,050 matches in a managerial career with Bournemouth, Gillingham, Bristol City, Portsmouth, Stoke (two spells), Plymouth, Crystal Palace and West Brom.
He has won three promotions – two with Gillingham and one with Stoke, who he led into the Premier League after a 23-year absence from the top flight and then kept them there for five seasons.
When Boro appointed him, he said: “I wanted a challenge – a real challenge – and this reminds me so much of Stoke when I went there with Peter Coates,” said Pulis.
He played for Bristol Rovers (two spells), Happy Valley (Hong Kong), Newport, Bournemouth (two spells) and Gillingham – helping the Cherries to promotion from the old Third Division (now League One).
“I have never seen anything like Adama Traore’s turn of pace since Juninho.
Read more views from Rob from Middlesbrough fanzine Fly Me To The Moon here.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Although we didn’t cross paths with Middlesbrough last season, we did play them twice in 2015/16 – collecting our usual zero points.
The fixture list unkindly gave us a Tuesday night trip to the Riverside and the hardy Bees fans who travelled up had little cheer as Marinus Dijkhuizen’s side lost 3-1.
Cristhian Stuani gave Boro a first half lead and although Lasse Vibe equalised early in the second half, Stuani hit his second and Albert Adomah sealed the points for the hosts.
The fixture list was equally unkind to Boro fans, who themselves had a Tuesday night trip to Griffin Park the following January.
They had a better evening though as David Button’s error allowed Daniel Ayala to score the only goal of the match.
Last September, Brentford came close to actually winning at the Riverside before we had to settle for a 2-2 draw.
Yoann Barbet headed us into a 29th minute lead but Martin Braithwaite equalised early in the second half. Ollie Watkins restored our lead but Fabio secured a point for the hosts.
The game was overshadowed, however, by the injury to Rico Henry, which ruled him out for the rest of the season.
BBC Tees sports editor Paul Addison looks at Middlesbrough’s season, analyses what went wrong for Garry Monk and why Tony Pulis has made a difference and reveals whether Boro regard Brentford as “lucky opponents”.
Q – How would you assess Middlesbrough’s season so far – was automatic promotion expected at the start of the season?
A – “We want to smash the league.” Those were the words uttered by the Boro chairman Steve Gibson live on BBC Tees Sport towards the end of last season when the club’s return to the Championship was confirmed.
They’ve since come back to haunt Gibson, although he’s regularly misquoted by fans who think he said: “we’re going to smash the league.”
Clearly more was expected from a squad assembled at a cost of nearly £50m (although most of that was recouped through sales) and it just hasn’t happened.
That cost Garry Monk his job just before Christmas as Gibson pulled the plug and Tony Pulis was tasked with picking up the pieces.
Q – What is the feeling about the rest of the season – do club/fans/you expect the side to secure a play-off place?
A – Consistency has been the problem this season, both under Monk and Pulis. Just when you think you’re getting somewhere, a few poor results see it all go back to square one.
A few weeks back, after defeat at Norwich, a lot of fans got in touch with us after the game to say we need to get this season out of the way and concentrate on reshaping the squad for an assault on promotion come August.
That’s all changed now following four wins in five which has seen Boro move into the play-off places while teams around them – notably Derby and Bristol City – have been struggling. There’s now real optimism that Boro can stay in the top six.
Q – What went wrong for Garry Monk?
A – Anyone who has heard Garry Monk speak will know he’s a very modern type of manager.
This means he sometimes comes across as talking a little bit like The Office’s David Brent.
Despite being a thoroughly decent man, he just didn’t connect with the fans, the area or, ultimately, the club.
Having said that there are plenty of people who feel he was unlucky to be given the bullet following victory at Sheffield Wednesday just before Christmas which left Boro three points off the top six.
As any football fan knows, Tony Pulis is a very experienced operator – one of the first things he made a big play of when he arrived was how he related strongly to the Middlesbrough area.
The history of steelmaking and the hard working, salt of the earth people reminding him of his own upbringing in South Wales. Without a ball being kicked he’d immediately created a bond with the supporters – something the polished, media trained Monk never managed.
Q – What has Tony Pulis done differently to bring about your upturn in form – is it more than simply a new manager bounce?
A – Pulis has simplified things. We all know how he likes to play the game – functional, not necessarily easy on the eye football but we’ve also seen some terrific entertainment in his short time in charge.
What he has done is tighten up the defence – Ryan Shotton has gone from being a forgotten man to being the first name on the team sheet. In typical Pulis fashion he’s a centre back being deployed as a full-back who has great energy and a very, very long throw!
Boro seem to be a more organised unit under Pulis, and there appears to be more of a togetherness in the squad.
He’s getting the best out of (nearly) all of the squad, whereas Monk seemed to have favourites and others out in the cold for no obvious reasons.
Q – Why has Patrick Bamford suddenly come good?
A – Bamford has had a nightmare couple of years with several loan spells from Chelsea going wrong since he starred for the Boro in the season they lost to Norwich in the play-off final.
He’s talked about it to us at length – how his confidence was shattered, particularly by his spell at Burnley.
In simple terms, Pulis has put his arm around Bamford and has obviously told him what he wants.
That said, fortune has also played a part – had Rudy Gestede not fractured his ankle he would no doubt have been leading the line in the last few weeks instead of Bamford, who would have been stuck in his less favoured role on the left wing.
Bamford is such a clever footballer, and his return to form has delighted those who knew he would come good again, and he’s only 24!
Q – Do Boro regard Brentford almost as “lucky” opponents? In our seven meetings since we were promoted to the Championship, Boro have won six and there has been the one draw this season. I know we haven’t met very often but Brentford’s last win was in January 1964!
A – I suppose you’d have to say they do!
The two games in the play-off semi-finals in the 2014-15 season always stick in the memory for me.
I can’t speak for Brentford of course, but I get the feeling it was just a couple of games too far, much like the play-off final against Norwich proved to be one too far for the Boro.
It’s worth noting that six of the players who started the first leg of that play-off game are still regulars and will have memories of what happened at Griffin Park that night.
Q – Which Boro players should we watch out for?
A – Adama Traore is the man of the moment – he’s been absolutely outstanding since Tony Pulis arrived. Nobody can quite put their finger on what he’s done, but whatever it is has turned the young Spaniard into a sensation. He always had huge promise, but Monk and Aitor Karanka before him couldn’t seem to unlock that potential.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that if he keeps developing the way he is, he’ll be worth an awful lot of money and will no doubt be targeted by some of the world’s biggest clubs.
Mo Besic has been a revelation since joining on loan from Everton in January.
We thought he’d be a sitter in midfield as that’s the role he’s previously been known for, but his forward runs into the heart of the opposition penalty area have been a trademark of his time at the Riverside so far.
The centre-back paring of Ben Gibson and Dani Ayala are back in tandem and back to their best. They have a great understanding of each other and give the rest of the side huge confidence.
Q – Which Brentford players will you be wary of?
A – I think the Boro defence will have to be wary of Ollie Watkins. Not only is he the leading goalscorer but he appears to be your major creative force too. Tony Pulis has tightened things up at the back but the Boro defence can suffer lapses in concentration as we saw against Barnsley last week which Watkins will look to exploit.
Q – Finally, are you able to give me a possible Boro starting line-up and formation too please?
A – Boro’s 4-3-3 has really fired in the last few weeks.
Captain Grant Leadbitter has missed the last two games through suspension and he’s also carrying a hamstring strain but if he’s fit I expect him to replace Adam Clayton in the central midfield holding role.
Barring other injuries, the side picks itself at the moment.
Shotton Gibson Ayala Friend
Howson Leadbitter Besic
Traore Bamford Downing
PUBS IN BRENTFORD
For Middlesbrough fans coming to the game, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be).
We are now back to the traditional four pubs around the ground, following the reopening of the Royal Oak.
The Griffin is closest to the away end (like 30 secs walk) and is very popular with away fans – but also very, very busy. The New Inn is on the other side and is also popular with away fans. The Princess Royal and the Royal Oak are the other options.
Other pubs slightly further afield for the more creative amongst you include (and this is by no means a definitive list) …. The Globe (Windmill Rd) is the Beesotted pre-match pub. This boozer & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are both incredibly friendly and cosy away-friendly pubs and about 1 min walk from each other …. frequented by ‘away fans in the know’.
The Plough (Northfields Ave) in Northfields is a decent stop-off if you are coming by tube to Northfields. The ‘Northfields run’ makes a much better pub crawl route than South Ealing – getting off at Northfields station, turning left and stopping off at The Plough (2 min walk), The Lord Nelson (10 min walk from The Plough) & The Globe (1 min walk from The Nelson) en-route before ending up at The Griffin (8 min walk from The Globe) by the away turnstiles.
There’s also a relatively new tiny microbrewery pub in Northfields called The Owl and The Pussycat (Northfields Ave)– right turn out of the station away from the ground as opposed to left.
There is a pub right by Brentford station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For ale head to the Magpie and Crown pub on Brentford High Street. The Royal Horseguardsman (Ealing Road) can probably hold 15 of you at a push.
The Brewery Tap (Catherine Wheel Road) is a cosy boozer by the river. And if you are super adventurous, get off at Kew Bridge and visit One Over the Ait (Kew Bridge Road) – a spacious boozer right next to Kew Bridge with a beer deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel.
A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many many more too if you have a look around.
Parking is pretty easy away from the ground going up towards and over the A4 Great West Rd (ie. North) via Ealing Road or Windmill Road.
Getting to Brentford from town – many fans get the tube to Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee lines) or Vauxhall (Victoria Line) then take the Overground train to Brentford.
This is relatively straightforward but can actually take longer than if you get the tube due to waiting times (overground trains come every 15 mins and the journey from Vauxhall or Waterloo to Brentford is 30 mins on the fast train – 51 mins on the slow train – so you could find it takes you over an hour including the journey from Kings Cross/Euston/Paddington).
Many fans choose the tube over the overground. It’s 35 minutes to Northfields station from Kings Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Brentford from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford pub crawl outlined above (Plough, Lord Nelson, Globe, Griffin) of course. If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops).
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.
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