As expected, Middlesbrough have occupied a Play-Off spot for much of the season and it looks as though they’ll be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. What have you made of Boro’s campaign so far?
The expectation was for Boro to be up there and they are. I don’t think there are any surprises about the way it’s been done; Tony Pulis is structuring his team in the way that he always does with a strong defence. They lack some pace in wide positions, but almost all of the building blocks are in place for the way Pulis likes to go about things.
Pulis has implemented his defensive approach to great effect at the Riverside, which can lead to low-scoring tactical battles. It’s clearly effective, but do the fans appreciate this style of play?
Fans basically fall in to one of two camps: some are only concerned with results, whereas others want to see something more exciting on a Saturday. You can’t really argue with the results because Boro are second in the table and on course for automatic promotion, but the style of football certainly hasn’t won everyone over.
You said Boro could do with adding some pace on the wing; how much do they miss Adama Traoré?
Any side would miss Traoré; he’s not a once in a lifetime player, but he’s possibly a once in a generation player. It’s been said that he was the most exciting Middlesbrough player since Juninho and it’s the best part of 20 years since he was around.
He’s definitely been missed because he was just exceptional - just so unlike anything I’ve ever seen, not just in a Boro shirt, but on a football pitch generally. He had outrageous pace and the ability to get fans excited. You didn’t have a clue what he was going to do – it could be horrific as well as brilliant at times, but that was all part of the charm. They’ve missed him horribly, but they have found a way of getting by without him.
There is no doubt a number of candidates, but which player has impressed you the most so far?
He hasn’t really got the goals to go with his performances, but Jonny Howson has been excellent and Stewart Downing, although he’s 34, is still a class act. The defence as a unit have been excellent -although he’s injured at the moment, Ryan Shotton has done very well. He’s played as a wing-back for a fair amount of the season and the first time you saw him there, you thought, ‘This could be fun!’ But he’s been really good and the deliveries of his crosses have been spot on.
How are Middlesbrough likely to set up?
He’s switched between two formations: 4-3-3 and 3-5-2. Last time out against Wigan Athletic they played with four at the back so, if he carries on in that vein, it will be a back four again against Brentford. I imagine he’ll line up in the same way, but I could just as easily be proven wrong.
What’s your score prediction?
1-0 to Boro. I know Brentford, in recent times, have been very attacking and attractive, but Boro are very good at stopping teams from doing what they are good at. If they get it right and score first, I think Brentford will have a very hard time fighting back.
For the full chat with Mark, pick up a copy of BEES matchday programme around Griffin Park on Saturday