Lack of goals at both ends of the pitch have defined Middlesbrough’s season so far.
Boro have only conceded eight in their 17 Championship games, the lowest total in the division by five goals. (Our next Saturday visitors Swansea have the second lowest total of 13.)
However, their goals scored total of 19 is the joint lowest in the top eight in the table – along with Swansea as it happens – and only five clubs have scored fewer.
It is the defensive strength, helped by 11 clean sheets, that has taken Boro to second in the table, with only two defeats to their name.
But if their record at the other end was better, or if they had won even half of their seven drawn games, then they would be clear at the top.
Tony Pulis’s side, who were beaten by Aston Villa in last season’s play-off semi-finals, have been particularly strong at the Riverside Stadium.
They have beaten Sheffield United (3-0), Birmingham and West Brom (1-0) and Bolton and Wigan (2-0) and drawn with Swansea and Rotherham (0-0) and Derby (1-1) there. Nottingham Forest are the only visitors to come away with three points thanks to a 2-0 victory.
Boro’s three wins on the road have come at Bristol City and Ipswich (2-0) and Sheffield Wednesday (2-1) while they have picked up a point at Millwall (2-2), Leeds and Stoke (0-0) and Hull (1-1), but they were beaten 1-0 at Norwich.
This is Boro’s ninth season out of 10 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 – although, like this season, they could look back on points dropped in drawn games. Their total of 13 stalemates was the second highest in the division and they lost fewer games than four other sides.
Don’t forget that Saturday’s game is a 5.30pm kick-off as it’s being shown live on Sky.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
The hugely experienced Tony Pulis was appointed as Middlesbrough manager on Boxing Day last year in succession to Garry Monk.
The 60-year-old has taken charge of more than 1,000 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.
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).
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Brentford’s record against Middlesbrough is simply awful.
Although our paths haven’t crossed much until recent years, we have only won four of our 18 league meetings – with the last of those in March 1938.
We actually have the upper hand in cup ties – with three wins out of four in the FA Cup, although we lost the only League Cup meeting.
Since we joined them in the Championship in 2014, we have played each other eight 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 last season.
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.
In the return at Griffin Park in March, Lewis Macleod scored his first Brentford goal to earn us a 1-1 draw.
Adama Traore put Boro ahead in the 21st minute but Macleod, in his first Bees start for around 18 months following his injury lay-off, equalised 13 minutes later when he fired home after his initial shot was blocked. The Bees had to hang on for the final couple of minutes after Romaine Sawyers was sent off in second half stoppage time, after collecting his second yellow card.
BBC Tees’ Middlesbrough touchline reporter Rob Law explains our visitors’ goals record at both ends of the pitch, discusses which summer signings have had the biggest impact at the club and assesses their promotion chances.
Q – Boro have the best defensive record, but one of the poorest attacking records in the Championship this season – what do you put this down to?
A – One word… Creativity. Middlesbrough are really lacking that spark in midfield since the departure of Adama Traore over the summer (the fastest player I have seen in my life). That, coupled with the fact the strikers have struggled for confidence in front of goal, has seen them fail to take opportunities when presented.
It’s not uncommon to see the Boro strikers isolated and lacking service and it’s something manager Tony Pulis has alluded to a number of times in post-match interviews. Britt Assombalonga has grabbed himself a few goals so far this season, but Pulis wants to see more from the former Forest man. As for Jordan Hugill, he has impressed but has been accused of falling over too easily by the Boro boss.
If he stays on his feet, Hugill can be dangerous but he’s been struggling for fitness after missing pre-season with West Ham. To add to his frustrations, he arrived at Boro with a knock and had to wait for his opportunity. Boro fans will be hoping his two goals against Wigan last time out were just the start of a run of form.
Q – Would anything other than promotion this season be acceptable for Boro and what were the expectations at the start of the campaign?
A – There are very mixed views from the supporters at this moment in time in regards to the prospect of promotion. Tony Pulis was pushing to add further numbers to his squad before the transfer window closed, especially after losing Adama Traore and Ben Gibson so late on, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen.
Make no mistake about it, Tony Pulis was brought in to deliver promotion but some fans feel the team is still lacking real quality in certain areas given the departures. To this point Boro have held their own though, and look to be in a good position.
Promotion was the aim at the start of the season, but I think the January transfer window will have a big say in what happens come the end of the campaign. If they don’t add to the squad I can see them competing in the play-offs, but with a few additions they could be real contenders for automatic promotion.
Q – How much difference have the summer signings made – especially the likes of Aden Flint and ex-Bee George Saville?
A – Out of the signings which were made in the summer, Mo Besic, Aden Flint and Jordan Hugill have had the biggest impact. Besic is starting to add the odd goal to his game and has been set the target of reaching double figures this season. As for Hugill, I think we’re yet to see the best of him but slowly he is getting there. His two goals against Wigan before the international break will do him a world of good.
Aden Flint has been steady at the back and seems to have formed a good partnership with Dani Ayala. He is one of the reasons Boro’s defensive record is so good this season. He is a tower of a man, strong and commanding.
George Saville is a difficult one at this point as he’s struggled to impress so far. Boro have a lot of competition for places in the middle of the field, but the problem being that all of those players are very similar. Recently Pulis has favoured Adam Clayton, Besic and Johnny Howson in midfield, with Saville occasionally coming off the bench.
Q – Who should Brentford fans watch out for on Saturday?
A – It will depend entirely on how Pulis shapes his side up. He hasn’t been afraid to tinker with the starting 11 and the formation during his time at Boro. On his day Martin Braithwaite can change the game. He has pace and good technical ability but the problem has been getting him to deliver consistently, which up to now he hasn’t.
Pulis has been switching between Britt Assombalonga and Jordan Hugill up front, and either of them on their day can win the game. As I mentioned earlier, Britt is perhaps a bit short of confidence, and given Hugill’s brace last time out I suspect he will be desperate to start and to continue his form in front of goal.
It’s worth mentioning Adam Clayton as well, who doesn’t offer much in terms of goals, but he is an outstanding player to watch on the pitch. His job is to break up play and protect the back four and he does it brilliantly.
Q – Middlesbrough have become a real bogey side for Brentford – we haven’t met often, but the Bees haven’t beaten Boro since before World War Two. Do you see any chance of that run ending this time?
A – As the table shows, Boro have prided themselves on being strong defensively so far this season. It’s easy to typecast Tony Pulis and assume they Boro will pump it long. However, that hasn’t really been the case during his time at the club.
There are a handful of examples when they’ve scored some beautiful team goals this season, but equally there have been a number of times when the football has been slow and lacking any real cutting edge. It will depend entirely on which Boro turn up.
Q – What style of play should we expect to see from Boro?
A – Given their win over Wigan last time out I would assume that Tony Pulis will keep the same structure in a 4-3-3 formation. Danny Baath has done really well since stepping in for Dani Ayala but I would expect the former Liverpool defender to come back into the side on Saturday.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Boro starting line-up and formation?
GK – Randolph
RB – Dael Fry if Shotton isn’t back from injury.
CB’s – Flint, Ayala
LB – George Friend.
CM’s (R-L) Mo Besic, Adam Clayton, Johnny Howson.
Forward 3 – (R-L) Martin Braithwaite, Jordan Hugill, Stewart Downing.
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).
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 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) & 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.
And another new pub worth checking out is The Black Dog Beer House, formerly The Albany, on Albany Road.
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, with a deck overlooking the river – and The Express Tavern (Kew Bridge Road) – an ale pub with a retro feel. There are a load more pubs in the river in Kew if that takes your fancy.
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 our for the parking signs which change from area to area.
THERE IS MAJOR DISRUPTION TO ROAD AND RAIL ROUTES AGAIN THIS SATURDAY
Another South Western Railways striker means there are no Overground trains to Brentford on Saturday.
By tube, it’s 35 minutes to South Ealing or Northfields stations from King’s Cross or Euston (less from Paddington) and then 15 minutes walk to Griffin Park from there (4 mins on the bus) – more if you take the Northfields to Brentford
You can check out Transport for London’s guide to travel on the Tube and Overground.
And more details can be found here on Brentford’s official website.
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