Saturday evening’s FA Cup third round tie with Middlesbrough promises to be a very strange affair.
Not only is it yet another match being played behind closed doors, and at an unusual kick-off time of 6pm, but, writing on Thursday evening, it is very hard to say which players will be taking part in the tie, or even if the game will take place.
The match has been put into doubt after a series of positive Covid tests in the Boro squad, which resulted in the club’s training ground being closed on Monday.
FA rules state that if a club can field 14 fit players – whether from the first team, under-23s or under-18s – then they must fulfil their FA Cup ties, so it could be that a largely second-string Brentford team takes on a very youthful Boro side.
It is remarkably the seventh year in a row that the Bees have been drawn at home in the FA Cup third round since we won promotion to the Championship in 2014.
Three times we have gone out at the first hurdle, twice we have reached round four and once the fifth round.
We have always shuffled the team around and, given our superb Carabao Cup run, and the fact that we now have a rearranged league game with Bristol City next Wednesday, it seems certain that we will do that again.
Players like Luke Daniels and Marcus Forss seem certain to play, while there could be starting places for the likes of Emiliano Marcondes, Saman Ghoddos, Charlie Goode, the returned Halil Dervisoglu and maybe some of the B team players who have featured on the bench in recent weeks like Fin Stevens, Aaron Pressley and Max Haygarth.
While Middlesbrough’s league form is probably irrelevant to what happens on Saturday, it is worth pointing out they are currently seventh in the table – one point outside the play-off zone and four points behind the Bees.
Their best-ever performance in the FA Cup was reaching the final in 1996/97 when they faced Chelsea. However, the Blues opened the scoring after only 42 seconds – at the time the quickest goal in a Wembley FA Cup final – and went on to win 2-0. Boro also reached the League Cup final that season, losing 1-0 to Leicester in a replay after a 1-1 draw.
Apart from their final appearance, Boro have also reached the FA Cup semi-finals twice in the past 20 years – in 2001/02, when they lost 1-0 to Arsenal, and in 2005/06, when they were beaten 1-0 by West Ham.
However, since being relegated from the Premier League in 2017, they have reached the fourth round twice and lost in round three once.
WHO’S IN CHARGE
Neil Warnock took over for the final stages of last season – replacing Jonathan Woodgate.
The 72-year-old, who celebrated his 1,500th game in management against Barnsley in October, has a record eight promotions to his name.
Warnock was appointed just after the restart in June, with Boro 21st in the table and only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. But he led them to four victories and four defeats and that was enough to earn a 17th-place finish – three points clear of the bottom three.
His eight promotions as a manager are:
– Taking Scarborough into the Football League in 1987
– Guiding Notts County from Third Division (now League One) to the Premier League in two seasons from 1990 to 1992
– Leading Huddersfield into Division Two (now Championship) in 1995, after beating us in the semi-finals.
– Steering Plymouth into Division Two in 1996
– Taking Sheffield United into the Premier League in 2006
– Leading QPR into the Premier League in 2011
– Guiding Cardiff into the Premier League in 2018
He has also been in charge of Gainsborough, Burton, Torquay, Oldham, Bury, Crystal Palace, Leeds and Rotherham.
As a player, he appeared more than 300 times for Chesterfield, Rotherham, Hartlepool, Scunthorpe, Aldershot, Barnsley, York and Crewe.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
This is the fifth time we have played Middlesbrough in the FA Cup – and we’ve been drawn at home on each occasion.
The first time was our first-ever meeting in 1906/07. We were in the Southern League, First Division at the time, with Boro in Division Two of the Football League – but despite that, we pulled off a shock 1-0 second round win.
Our next ties were in consecutive seasons just after World War Two with Brentford in Division Two and Boro in the fop flight. In 1947/48, Boro won 2-1 at Griffin Park in the fourth round, but 12 months later we got revenge with a 3-2 victory in round three.
Our final FA Cup meeting before this Saturday was in 1963/64, when we earned a 2-1 third round victory, again at Griffin Park.
In League action, since we joined Middlesbrough in the Championship in 2014, we have played each other 13 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 then won three in a row before this season’s goalless draw.
Rather than repeating the details of the first 12 matches, they are in the preview for November’s meeting, along with our record against Neil Warnock over the years.
But to quickly reflect on this season’s meeting, we played Boro on the first Saturday in November and were held to our first goalless draw in 29 Championship games.
BBC Radio Tees’ Middlesbrough commentator Mark Drury looks at Boro’s form since our last meeting, tells us if promotion is expected on Teesside and suggests the type of players Neil Warnock may be after during the transfer window.
NB: Mark answered these questions before news of the Covid outbreak at Boro’s training camp was known.
Q – How seriously do you think Boro will take the FA Cup this season?
A – Neil Warnock said weeks ago, “Well we’re not going to win the Cup are we? So that could be a chance for me to rest a few.”
That probably answers it for you.
Q – How has Boro’s form been since the goalless draw at Brentford in November?
A – It’s been six wins and five defeats since then. Boro have sworn off drawing games it would seem.
Perhaps more pertinent is the fact Neil Warnock’s side have won four of their last five games.
Q – How much disappointment will there be if the club misses out on a top six spot at the end of the season?
A – From the position Boro start the year, there would be disappointment if they miss out. However, at the start of the season, fans hoped for a play-off push, rather than expecting one. The turnaround from last season’s struggle to avoid relegation has been remarkable.
Q – What transfer business are you expecting this month?
A – We’ve already seen a change of reserve goalkeeper, with Jordan Archer replacing Dejan Stojanovic. Aside from that bit of tinkering around the edges, Neil Warnock wants wide men. Boro need more push in attack and have been boosted by Duncan Watmore signing a new contract to stay at the club.
Q – What did you make of your first visit to the Brentford Community Stadium?
A – I loved it. I’m very disappointed we can’t be there this weekend.
Q – Finally, can you give me a possible line-up and formation for Boro on Saturday please?
A – Honestly? No. I’d be lying if I claimed to have a clue what Neil Warnock will do this weekend. It won’t be the usual line-up though, I can tell you that much.