Neil Warnock is working his magic again at Middlesbrough so far this season.
The 71-year-old, who celebrated his 1,500th game in management against Barnsley in October, has a record eight promotions to his name. And if Boro continue their early-season form, then who would bet him against him securing a ninth?
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.
For the second season in a row, Middlesbrough kicked off the Championship – this time around at Watford in a game they lost 1-0.
However, that has proved to be their only league defeat so far and they arrive at the Brentford Community Stadium on an unbeaten nine-game run in the league.
They have won four and drawn five of those matches and kept five clean sheets. In fact they have the best defensive record in the Championship with only five goals conceded, although their goals scored total of nine is the second lowest in the top half of the table.
At the Riverside, which celebrated its 25th anniversary of opening this year, the Teessiders have beaten Barnsley (2-1), Coventry (2-0) and last Saturday Nottingham Forest (1-0), while they have been held by Bournemouth (1-1) and Reading (0-0).
On the road, they have won at Bristol City (1-0) and drawn at QPR and Cardiff (both 1-1) and Blackburn (0-0) on Tuesday.
In the Carabao Cup, they lost 2-0 at home to divisional rivals Barnsley in round two after a 4-3 win over Shrewsbury in round one.
This is Boro’s 11th season out of 12 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
As mentioned earlier Neil Warnock took over for the final stages of last season – replacing Jonathan Woodgate.
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.
THE WARNOCK EFFECT ON BRENTFORD
Brentford have often struggled against Neil Warnock teams in the past and don’t have a great record in games against him.
He could well be the manager who Brentford have come up against the most times in our history.
I make it that Warnock has managed 22 games against the Bees – and we have only won five of them.
Eight have finished as draws (one of which we infamously then lost on a penalty shoot-out) and the other nine have been defeats.
Our last win over a Warnock side was seven games ago when we beat Oldham 2-1 in March 1998.
Our complete record against Neil Warnock is:
|Huddersfield||1||3 (lost one on pens)||2|
Included in those matches are the 1995 play-off ties with Huddersfield.
WE’VE MET BEFORE
Since we joined Middlesbrough in the Championship in 2014, we have played each other 12 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 all the last three matches.
Our win over them at Griffin Park last season was our first in a league game in TW8 since December 1938, when we won 2-1.
2014/15 – Boro 4-0 Bees, Bees 0-1 Boro; Play-offs: Bees 1-2 Boro, Boro 3-0 Bees
2015/16 – Boro 3-1 Bees, Bees 0-1 Boro
2017/18 – Boro 2-2 Bees, Bees 1-1 Boro
2018/19 – Bees 1-2 Boro, Boro 1-2 Bees
2019/20 – Boro 0-1 Bees, Bees 3-2 Boro
RECENT MEETINGS IN DETAIL
Both of the games in 2018/19 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, we followed up with another win five months later in our first away game of last 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.
In the February return, the penultimate Saturday 3pm kick-off game at Griffin Park, we won a thriller 3-2.
Julian Jeanvier gave us a 24th minute lead from a corner, with goalline technology confirming the ball had crossed the line, before a spell of three goals in six minutes early in the second half.
Lewis Wing equalised for Boro in the 58th minute with a 25-yard screamer which went in off the post, but Bryan Mbeumo restored our lead two minutes later from a similar distance, only for Ashley Fletcher to head MIddlesbrough level once again three minutes later.
The final word went almost inevitably to Ollie Watkins, who scored his 20th goal of the season from Christian Norgaard’s pass in the 87th minute.
We stayed fourth in the table, although dropped to fifth after the day’s late game, while Boro remained 18th.
BBC Radio Tees’ Middlesbrough commentator Mark Drury looks at how Neil Warnock has transformed the side’s fortunes, the impact ex-Bee George Saville has had so far this season, and pinpoints the Boro man to watch on Saturday.
Q – What has Neil Warnock done to turn Middlesbrough’s fortunes around this season?
A – He’s getting the utmost out of players who didn’t seem to have the ability to give what they’re giving this season.
Anfernee Dijksteel is a man transformed from the nervous wreck of last year, while Marc Bola’s Boro career looked to be over before it had really begun, but Warnock has made him into a really effective defender.
He’s imbued confidence where there was none and turned a previously fragile-looking unit into something solid and Championship-ready.
Q – Boro are unbeaten since the opening day of the season – how would you assess their start so far?
A – It’s been a really efficient and impressive start to the season from The Boro. Perhaps a few more draws than would be regarded as ideal, but they have a base to build on for the rest of the campaign.
Q – What were the expectations at the start of this campaign – another promotion push, mid-table, or another season of struggle and why?
A – Many Boro fans were cautiously optimistic about the season and that optimism was almost completely based on the presence of Neil Warnock in the dugout. That optimism is being rewarded right now, with Warnock’s team in the play-off places despite not being radically different from the one that fought against relegation last time around.
Q – What transfer business did Boro do over the shortened summer?
A – Boro did their business late. Striker and ex-Brentford loan player Chuba Akpom, was the big arrival, coming in from PAOK Salonika, where he’d helped them to the Greek League and Cup double. Central defender Grant Hall joined from QPR on a free, while Sam Morsy has fitted right in after escaping the sinking ship at Wigan.
Marcus Bettinelli was an important loan signing between the sticks. Experienced defenders George Friend and Ryan Shotton have gone, while young goalkeeper Aynsley Pears went to Blackburn.
Q – Ex-Brentford midfielder George Saville seems to be on top form so far this season – what has made him such a key player this term?
A – It’s the obvious answer – Neil Warnock. He’s found a way for Saville to flourish after two underwhelming seasons on Teesside. The midfield triumvirate of Saville, Howson and Morsy has dominated games for Boro and Saville has benefitted from the extra protection his team-mates afford him.
Q – How much are you looking forward to being inside Brentford’s new stadium?
A – I loved Griffin Park, but I don’t know of anyone mourning that torture chamber of a press box! Yes, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing your new ground. The only shame is that the fans won’t be there with us. Sport without fans is a particularly soulless and joyless experience.
Q – Who should Bees fans watching on iFollow, look out for in the Boro team?
A – Paddy McNair has been outstanding all season. He’s playing in the middle of defence but he steps out to supplement the attack and his dead ball delivery is outstanding.
Q – Finally can you give me a possible Middlesbrough formation and line-up for this Saturday’s game?
A – If Neil Warnock plays with a back four again, like he did at Blackburn on Tuesday, then 4-3-3….
Bettinelli; Bola, Mcnair, Fry, Dijksteel; Howson, Saville, Tavernier; Coulson, Spence, Assombalonga.