I guess it has been a strange few weeks. The timing of the FA Cup game was less than convenient in terms of the Covid outbreak, as Middlesbrough were forced to name a patchwork squad for the trip down and even the players who were there, by all accounts, were hardly fit enough to be playing. On that day, there were signs of encouragement that they made it a bit of a contest in the end, even though they, ultimately, got knocked out. In the weeks since, there have been a couple of quite disappointing results - the 3-0 defeat to Rotherham, in particular - so things weren’t looking great. That changed at the weekend as, though their game with Norwich ended 0-0, they fought hard and took a point from a side that is pretty much running away with the league at the moment. With a few new signings in tow, I think things are starting to look up and there’s a refreshed sense of optimism after a difficult month.
They are still right on the cusp of the top six, despite having only scored two goals in their last five games, both of which came in the win against Nottingham Forest. What’s going wrong in front of goal at the moment?
For the last couple of games, Boro have been without some of their more offensive players through injury. Marcus Browne had been out of action for quite a while but was starting to show signs of being a really key player, while Marcus Tavernier (pictured above) has been the team’s utility man over the couple of seasons but had started to be deployed in a more attacking role, where he looked as though he was really finding his feet. I think there has just been a lack of quality in those attacking areas. The transfer business that has been done should go a decent way to rectifying that and hopefully, looking at the squad now on paper, it looks like one that has the quality to push for that top six finish.
Boro brought in five players in, sent five out on loan and cancelled goalkeeper Tomas Meijas’ contract by mutual consent in January. Would you say it was a successful window, on the whole?
Yes, I think it was. I don’t think there’s too much that you can argue with in terms of the business the club did during the January window. Meijas was already out on loan, but was way down the pecking order anyway, while the players who went out on loan were all young lads who’ve been around the first team during the first half of the season, but as soon as the window opened, the target was always going to be to upgrade things to ensure there were quality options to come off the bench and have the depth needed to change things up in a match and then be able to rotate as well. The matches are coming thick and fast and you need to be able to rotate in order to keep things fresh. The players that have come in will certainly make the squad stronger.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye out for this Saturday?
It’s a tricky one because it’s hard to know exactly who’ll be playing! Yannick Bolasie started the game against Norwich and looked bright, if a little bit rusty, but I imagine he’ll be looking to play a bigger role against Brentford. Looking at the new signings, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing hasn’t played a lot of football recently as he’s been without a club, so I wouldn’t expect him to start the match, but someone like Neeskens Kebano has played recently and is someone who could make a real, immediate impact.
How is Neil Warnock likely to set up his side at the Riverside Stadium?
Again, these new signings have thrown the cat among the pigeons with regards to the way they are going to set up! So far, it has been a pretty rigid 4-3-3 formation with a flat back four, three central midfielders and then rotating the attacking options. The chances are that Neil Warnock will try and stick with that formula again, but with the way the transfer business was done, including sending Lewis Wing out on loan, you’ve got to think he’ll be trying to make more room for the attacking players in the side. There’s every chance they might shape up in a 4-4-2, which is what Warnock has done, historically.
Brentford have won four of the last five meetings between the teams in all competitions. What’s your score prediction for this one?
It’ll be a tricky one. Based on recent results, Middlesbrough have raised their game against sides who they are, typically, not expected to do fantastically against. Brentford are coming to the Riverside in excellent form and hoping to close the gap on the top two, but with the personnel Boro have in defence and midfield, I think they’ll be able to keep it tight and I’m expecting a cagey sort of game. I’m going to play it safe and say a 1-1 draw.
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