Middlesbrough sit ninth in the Championship standings after a reasonable start to the season – what have you made of what you’ve seen so far?
The phrase ‘work in progress’ comes to mind, really. You’ve got Garry Monk, who has brought in a lot of new players and spent a lot of money, and he’s got his ideas about how he wants the team to play, which is completely different to what they’ve been used to. He’s trying to get them more attack-minded, which they are doing, but you get the feeling that they haven’t quite clicked yet. As much as the defeats haven’t been big defeats and the victories haven’t been that convincing, they’ve just been meddling along a bit so they just need to click, and once they do click, I think you’ll see them blitz the Championship. They’ve got the ability in the squad to win the league, but you just don’t feel Monk’s got them doing what he wants just yet.
It wasn’t a fairy-tale return to the Premier League; how desperate will Boro be to bounce back at the first attempt?
I think they really need to bounce back – Chairman Steve Gibson has backed Monk in his first summer and spent nearly £50m on new signings. He has offloaded a few, so he’s raised a bit of cash by selling [Gaston] Ramirez and a few others, while Jordan Rhodes’ money came in over the summer. It’s not just a complete gamble, but Gibson said straight away after the relegation that he wanted to smash the Championship and if you look at the sort of money he’s given Monk to spend in the transfer market, that’s clearly what he wants to do. They haven’t done that yet, but there’s a feeling that they’ll get better with the more games they play under Monk.
Britt Assombalonga already has five goals to his name this season – is he your standout performer?
He’s already got five and I’d imagine he would end up as one of the division’s top scorers if he keeps this form up. I’ve liked him ever since he was playing at Peterborough and I still do – I wouldn’t like to be a defender playing against him; he’s powerful, strong, fast and can score goals. On Tuesday against Norwich, they obviously lost 1-0, but he had three or four really good chances and he had that problem at Forest a few weeks back. There will be those games when he will miss chances, but he’s also capable of scoring because his movement creates so many chances.
Former Bees favourite Adam Forshaw now plies his trade at the Riverside – how important a role does he play?
He started the season in the side, but has struggled so far under Monk and has lost his place, as he did in the first half of last season in the Premier League. As Brentford fans will know, he’s a really good ball player, very creative and likes to move around a lot but I just find him a little inconsistent, probably because of team selection more than anything else. He’s a top fella and a really good footballer so, come January, if he isn’t in the team, I think he’ll be due a start because he is good enough to be holding down a First Team place.
What should Brentford expect in terms of the way Middlesbrough set up?
The system has been tinkered with this season, but they started with four at the back, one holding midfielder in Adam Clayton, two centre midfielders and basically three up front - it wasn’t one man in the middle with two wide men, it was three strikers who could do whatever they liked. In the last few weeks, Monk’s gone for two holding midfielders and then three behind Assombalonga, with Lewis Baker as the number ten. 4-2-3-1 is the favourite at the minute, but the last couple of defeats could mean he’ll change that around.
What are you expecting from Brentford this weekend?
They’ve got some really decent players, but I don’t think they are in full flow as they were a couple of years ago when they caused Middlesbrough problems and got to the Play-Offs. I’ll be surprised if they get that far this year, but I do think they are a team to look out for.
The last time Brentford won a league game against Boro was December 1938; with that in mind can I push you for a score prediction?
The thing that’ll work against Boro is that they lost a home game on Tuesday night, but I’d be amazed if they lost two in a row so I’ll go for 2-0 to Middlesbrough.