Middlesbrough have had a disappointing season so far, and despite a revival over the festive period are still not out of danger.
Former player Jonathan Woodgate took over as manager during the summer, but did not get off to the best of starts, with only two wins in his first seven Championship games.
They dropped into the relegation zone during a winless run of 10 league matches which followed, before an upturn in fortunes.
From the end of November until New Year’s Day, they won six and drew one of nine matches to go 10 points clear of the bottom three.
Since then, however, they are without a win in their last four Championship encounters, although they did draw three of them, as discussed in this week’s pre-match podcast – link below.
While Middlesbrough have only lost three times at the Riverside – the first of those defeats to us in August – they have won six and drawn seven games there.
On the road, they have picked up two victories – back-to-back 2-0 successes at West Brom and Preston at the turn of the year – and in their other away games have drawn five and lost seven.
They made no progress in either cup competition – losing 4-2 at home to League Two Crewe on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the Carabao Cup first round – and going down 2-1 at Spurs in an FA Cup third round replay following a 1-1 draw on Teesside.
This is Boro’s 10th season out of 11 in the Championship.
After missing out on promotion in the 2015 play-off final – losing 2-0 to Norwich after beating us in the semis – they went one better 12 months later, by pipping Brighton to automatic promotion on goal difference after drawing with them on the final day of the season.
However, their stay in the Premier League only lasted 12 months as they suffered an immediate relegation. Their total of 13 draws was the second highest in the division and they lost fewer games than four other sides.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Former Middlesbrough defender Jonathan Woodgate was appointed as Tony Pulis’s successor as manager in June.
Woodgate, a boyhood Boro fan who was born in the town, was part of Pulis’s coaching set-up but this is his first managerial role.
Woodgate was a central defender in his playing career and won eight caps for England.
He played for Leeds, Newcastle, Real Madrid, Spurs and Stoke and had three spells at Boro – one on loan and two as a permanent signing.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Since we joined Middlesbrough in the Championship in 2014, we have played each other 11 times, including our play-off semi-final ties.
Boro won the first six of those games, before we finally stemmed the tide with two draws. We lost the next meeting, but since then have won both the last two matches – both away.
However, Middlesbrough are unbeaten in their last seven visits to Griffin Park in all competitions and last six in the league.
Our last home win over them came in the FA Cup third round in 1964, while our last league triumph was in the old Division One in December 1938 – the score each time being 2-1.
2014/15 – Boro 4-0 Bees, Bees 0-1 Boro; Play-offs: Boro 3-0 Bees, Bees 1-2 Boro
2015/16 – Boro 3-1 Bees, Bees 0-1 Boro
2017/18 – Boro 2-2 Bees, Bees 1-1 Boro
Both of last season’s games ended in 2-1 away wins.
The Griffin Park meeting in late November was a televised Sky game, and fans in TW8 and viewers across the country saw a goalless first half, but three goals after the interval.
Jordan Hugill put Boro ahead in the 56th minute and five minutes later it was 2-0 as Marcus Tavernier nodded in Dael Fry’s cross.
Alan Judge pulled one back in the 75th minute – his last goal for Brentford – and Rico Henry came on late on for his first appearance for more than a year following his injury problems, but the visitors held on for a 2-1 win which took them up to second in the table.
The defeat, the Bees’ fifth in six games, left us 15th – four points above the relegation zone.
Things were reversed in the return in March as Brentford hit back from conceding an early goal to win 2-1 for only our second away Championship win of the season and our first victory in Middlesbrough in eight meetings since 1938.
Ashley Fletcher gave Boro the perfect start by putting them ahead in the fourth minute, but before the break the Bees had two efforts disallowed and saw a Sergi Canos effort hit the bar.
Brentford equalised in the 70th minute when Henrik Dalsgaard’s shot hit home defender Ryan Shotton and flew in for an own goal, and three minutes later Dalsgaard set up Said Benrahma to sweep home the winner.
The match was also notable for being Dan Bentley’s final game for Brentford. Shortly after the Bees took the lead he was forced off with a shoulder injury, which ruled him out for the rest of the season. Patrik Gunnarsson came on for his debut and held firm as the Bees saw out the game.
Having broken our duck on Teesside last season, we followed up with another win five months later in our first away game of this season.
Ollie Watkins scored the only goal in the 54th minute from Sergi Canos’s right-wing cross as we won 1-0 for our first victory of the campaign.
Boro had two efforts ruled out and also hit the post in the first half.
Q – How would you assess Middlesbrough’s season so far?
A – The season started with fans split over the appointment of Jonathan Woodgate and when results didn’t go his way, there were serious questions about his future. However over the festive period, the team put together an impressive run during, arguably their toughest run of fixtures. That run saw Boro climb away from the bottom three and had the most optimistic fans looking up the table towards the play-offs. That may be a step too far at this stage but there’s a real feeling that the fans “have their club back” after 18 months under Tony Pulis.
Q – What were the expectations placed on Jonathan Woodgate when he took over in the summer and how do you think he has done?
A – When Woodgate was unveiled as manager, there was talk of building for the future and creating a style of play that fans can enjoy. It started with a real balls to the wall, heavy metal, kill or be killed mentality as Boro drew 3-3 at Luton, but the performances that followed were far from impressive. Any thoughts of the play-offs were quickly dashed and many believed Boro were set for a relegation dogfight.
However, Woodgate has steadied the ship and has pulled off some brilliant results (and performances) despite the team being savaged by injuries. Academy players have had to step up and BOY have they! Hayden Coulson and Djed Spence are now mainstays in the starting 11, not to mention Aynsley Pears in goal, who has transitioned seamlessly into the gloves left by Darren Randolph’s move to West Ham.
Considering this is his first managerial job, Woodgate is doing well with the cards he’s been dealt. Money is not freely available and they are cutting their cloth accordingly. The more experienced players have been battered by injuries with Dani Ayala, George Friend, Ryan Shotton and Britt Assombalonga all sidelined (although Boro’s number nine came off the bench on Saturday against Blackburn to make his return).
The feeling is Boro are coming through the worst of their injury crisis, but praise has to go to Woodgate and the academy players – the manager for putting them in, and the players for stepping up to the mark. It’s worth mentioning Woodgate’s tactical awareness also. Recently he’s made changes at the right time, which then go on to affect the game in a positive way.
Q – Middlesbrough’s home form is much better than their away form this season – what is the reason for that?
A – It’s difficult to say, but Woodgate has spoken about making the Riverside a place where fans can come and enjoy watching their side. Granted, it didn’t start that way, but over Christmas and into the New Year that has been the case. The fans have responded and get right behind their team and drag them across the line where needs be.
Q – What transfer activity were Boro involved in during the January window?
A – Boro were in desperate need of reinforcements in January, such was the length of the injury list. In the end, they added five new players. Lukas Nmecha and Patrick Roberts arrived on loan from Manchester City. Roberts hit the ground running, literally! He seemed to be that creative spark Boro had been lacking in midfield and had an immediate impact. However, such is Boro’s luck this season; he picked up a hamstring injury in the 1-1 draw against Birmingham and will now be out for six to eight weeks.
That forced Woodgate back into the market and brought about the signing of the much travelled Ravel Morrison, on loan from Sheffield United. A surprise? Yes! But Woodgate has proved he has good man-management skills and maybe he will be the one to get something out of a player who clearly has bags of talent.
Other signings include Harold Moukoudi, on loan from St Ettiene, to bolster Boro’s makeshift defence (although Johnny Howson has been OUTSTANDING this season, playing in just about every position and doing so with relative ease). Dejan Stojanovic also moved to the Riverside – a goalkeeper who has yet to even feature on the bench following the departure of Darren Randolph. All in all, it’s thought Boro had a productive window and strengthened the areas they were lacking, and did so with some real quality.
Q – It’s Boro’s last-ever game at Griffin Park – what memories do you have of previous visits?
A – For me personally, I’d go back to May 2015 in the Championship play-offs. Boro arrived at Griffin Park and it was seen as a difficult one to navigate. The atmosphere was absolutely electric with both teams desperate to draw first blood. Boro striker Jelle Vossen opened the scoring inside the first half an hour before Andre Gray equalised after half-time for the Bees. It looked to be heading for a draw until Fernando Amorebieta (who?!) came off the bench to score the winner for Boro in the 90th minute.
Q – What style of football should Brentford fans expect to see from Boro?
A – Brentford fans can expect to see two red arrows in the shape of Coulson and Spence flying down the wings. They have been a real handful, and the young wing-backs have become an almost overnight sensation at the club this season. They are still a bit rough round the edges and Spence in particular can be caught out of position now and again. Boro love to play high-intensity football when they get the opportunity and one way or another… it’s always eventful!
Q – Which players should we watch out for?
A – As I mentioned above Spence and Coulson have been a pleasure to watch this season. They love to drive at the defence with pace and trickery and their delivery into the box isn’t bad either. In defence, Howson has been playing as a makeshift centre-back, but looks like he’s been there since birth. He has composure on the ball, is great in the tackle and can play a killer pass as well. It’s expected one or two new boys might feature, Morrison being the one everybody is waiting to see. It’ll be interesting to see if Woodgate can get the best out of a player that has often frustrated managers and team-mates. If he can, it will be a masterstroke from the Boro head coach.
Q – Finally, can you give me a possible Boro starting line-up and formation?
A – It’s hard to guess with a few signings on deadline day. Those additions could mean he totally changes things around. He’s said all season how he wants to play Paddy McNair as a midfielder. He’s recently been used as part of a makeshift back three with Howson and Fry. However the signing of Moukoudi could allow that to happen. Assombalonga came off the bench on Saturday v Blackburn so he could rekindle his partnership with Ashley Fletcher up front. I suspect it might look something like this.
Formation – 3 5 2
CB’s – Howson – Fry – Moukoudi
WB’s – Djed Spence and Hayden Coulson.
Midfield – Paddy McNair, Ravel Morrison, Tavernier (or Saville).
CF – Ashley Fletcher and Britt Assombalonga.
BEESOTTED SCORE PREDICTIONS
Some of the Beesotted crew have given me their predictions for the score for Saturday’s game.
3-1 Bees. A rampant BMW overpower a vigilant Boro defence in a tasty encounter at Griffin Park. The first goal is crucial. We need to score first, early and kick in from there, especially if Pontus is still out. Benrahma, Watkins and a Pinnock header from a Jensen corner to seal the points. Robin Hood
1-0 Bees. Boro could be considered our bogey team and, make no mistake about it, will try and frustrate Brentford players and fans in much the same way Nottingham Forest did. It will therefore be tight and nervous and a packed Griffin Park will need to keep backing the team. Liberal Nick
3-0 Bees. Think we will score early and bring them out of their shell and pick them off. Comfortable victory. Greville Waterman
2-0 Bees. Bees start quickly with an early goal. Boro come to frustrate, not playing much football. Brentford press on for most of the game without scoring then nick another one at the end. Edward the Headward
3-1 Bees. Compared to recent years it will be a different proposition from this Middlesbrough team. With chances aplenty at both ends, the Bees benefit from the more attack-minded approach Jonathan Woodgate has instilled in his team, and finally run out winners. Matt Allard
PUBS IN BRENTFORD AND TRAVEL NEWS
For Boro fans coming to Griffin Park for the final time, you are probably aware there plenty of pub options pre-match and all are most welcoming and away-fan-friendly (as it should be). As you are probably well aware, Brentford is well known for its four pubs – one on each corner of the ground. 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 newly-opened and renamed The Brook pub – which has jumped on the craft beer bandwagon – 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 expected to be busy, and will be opening their garden bar for the first time this season to ease the load. Both The Globe & The Lord Nelson (Enfield Rd) are 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.
If you decide to get off at South Ealing station, we’ve heard a few people pop into Roddy’s Bar. If you like your craft beer, another fairly new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road, which is fairly busy before and after the match. There is a pub right by Brentford mainline station referred to as … the Pub by Brentford station.
For real 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, and across from the site of the Bees’ new stadium at Lionel Road. This pub is situated on the location of the now-demolished Oxford & Cambridge pub where Brentford Football Club was founded in 1889. There is also The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. If you sit in the garden, you can see Brentford’s new stadium towering over you.
There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy – just take a walk down Strand On The Green. A quick Google search and you’ll find them all. There are many, many more too if you have a look around. Parking near the stadium is a no no but is pretty easy in the streets north of Griffin Park on the other side of the A4 Great West Rd via Ealing Road or Windmill Road. Make sure you look out for the parking signs which change from area to area.
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.
The reality is the tube is easier and quicker (and cheaper). It’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (even less from Paddington) on the Piccadilly Line and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford
If you’re feeling lazy you could take the E2 bus from outside Northfields station (turn LEFT outside the station) to either outside The Globe pub (3 stops – serves The Lord Nelson too) or Brentford FC (4 stops – 5 minutes).
If you get off at South Ealing, you can get the 65 from the bus stop across the road – right outside the station.
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.