The Championship season kicked off in typically thrilling style last Friday night, when Boro were held to 3-3 draw by Luton at Kenilworth Road. How encouraging were the signs based on this first outing?
Well it was fun, that was the biggest thing. Fun has been in short supply over the last few years, not just under Tony Pulis, but previous to that as well. That’s the first thing, it was fun. It was good to see Boro not just scoring goals but creating chances, pressing and swarming all over Luton on their own patch. Obviously, it’s concerning that they let in three as well, but, basically, I came away from the Riverside on Friday having thoroughly enjoyed the game. If they have another 45 games like that then we’re going to have some fun along the way.
A Middlesbrough boy born-and-bred, Jonathan Woodgate took over from Tony Pulis at the club in the summer. For one, he clearly wants to employ a more front-foot style than his predecessor, so how popular an appointment has this been with the fans?
We’ve only had one game and they haven’t played at home yet so you have to reserve some judgement, but as an ideal, as an ambition, it’s gone down very well, as you can imagine! Seeing is one thing and doing is another but everybody is thoroughly behind the idea that, if Woodgate can pull it off, then there won’t be many people who won’t be happy with that whatsoever.
We’re speaking ahead of Deadline Day, but as of Wednesday morning, Woodgate is looking to bolster his defensive options having agreed a deal for Charlton’s Anfernee Dijksteel. What have you made of their business in the summer transfer window?
It’s been what you might have imagined, really. High earners like Martin Braithwaite and Aden Flint have left the club and freed up funds from the wage bill, which is to be expected when there is a change in circumstances like they’ve had; the parachute payments have run out and things are different now. At this point, we don’t know what the squad will look like come Saturday afternoon, but I think people would have seen a few more players arrive. However, the sort of people that have arrived would what you would expect: players at the start of their careers, as opposed to those at the end; players from lower divisions, like Marcus Browne and Marc Bola. Fans like the idea of signing young, hungry players and seeing if they can make the step up, but it would be nice to see a few more, certainly in attacking areas, wide areas in particular. If that’s been delivered by Thursday evening then I think that would be good.
Boro’s attack seems to have increased in potency since Tony Pulis’ departure, so which player would you say is most likely to cause issues for Brentford at the weekend?
It depends who Woodgate picks, as he might play Marcus Browne from the start and we haven’t seen him in more than one pre-season game, though he looked good in that. The obvious one would be Lewis Wing, who is the main creative hub in the centre of the pitch; he can pick a pass, long or short, and his first thought it always to look forward. He’s got one of the best shots in the division and doesn’t score tap-ins – he just scores crackers all the time. But then again Marvin Johnson surprised everyone on Friday. When he went on loan to Sheffield United last season we never expected to see him again because he’d not really done anything previous to that, but he was excellent against Luton and caused them lots of problems.
How are Boro likely to set-up for Saturday’s game?
Jonathan Woodgate has been very open and said he wants to play 4-3-3, he wants to be on the front-foot and he wants to be pressing high up the pitch. I think that’s what it’ll be and I don’t think there’ll be any surprises in how they go about it, the only question will be in terms of personnel. The wide positions are the main ones where he might swap things around.
What’s your score prediction for the clash at the Riverside?
After the other night, who knows! I think there’ll be goals; I know Neal Maupay has left but Brentford always create chances and have played very well at the Riverside in recent visits without necessarily always winning. I think 2-1 to Boro.
Advanced sales for Saturday's trip to The Riverside Stadium go off sale at 2pm on Friday.