Middlesbrough form took a slight dip after the goalless draw between themselves and Brentford on 7 November, though they seem to have quickly turned things round and now sit just a point outside the play-offs. How have the last two months been on Teesside?
It’s been positive. The season started really well and there was that drop off where they were starting to lose games that they probably would’ve lost last season but wouldn’t have expected to at the start of this campaign. They just seem to have been able to tighten themselves up a little bit. Neil Warnock has changed the team very slightly and it’s now a much more consistent 11 than what he had stuck with before. I think the introduction of a couple of players, most notably someone like Duncan Watmore, have changed the way Boro are playing. They look a lot more fluid and dangerous going forward and something just seems to have clicked. Instead of winning games 1-0 and trying to grind out a victory, it’s looking more likely that if they are in control of a game, they can actually punish an opponent by scoring a couple, which is always a good thing when you are trying to win games and move up the table.
Duncan Watmore has scored five goals in just eight games since joining the club on a short-term contract, leading to talk of Premier League interest. How much would Boro fans like to keep hold of him?
They want to keep hold of him 100 per cent. He’s just proving himself as a really good player and, seemingly, a really good person to have around the club. Everything Warnock has said about him is a glowing reference to what he’s like on the pitch but also off the pitch because, by all accounts, he’s a completely normal, down-to-earth, humble lad. I think the last couple of seasons at Sunderland have been difficult, particularly with his injuries, so I think he’s come to Middlesbrough with a real point to prove. It’s just been the perfect storm for him. There have been opportunities due to a couple of injuries in the squad and Warnock is a manager who is always up for empowering his players and finding ways to get the best out of them. He’s come in, worked hard and that’s been enough to, first of all, get him into the team, but then he’s also been able to get his rewards along the way. It’s a tricky situation with his contract because his situation meant the club only gave him a short-term deal, which now looks like potentially backfiring! We’ll just have to wait and see but my gut instinct is that he’ll probably stick around, at least until the summer.
Boro have reached round four of the FA Cup in two of the last three seasons. Do you think they’ll be chasing a cup run this time around?
It’s always a strange one with a Championship team in the FA Cup because, as much as it’s great to go on a run, everyone knows that promotion to the Premier League is the much greater prize. Middlesbrough will take it seriously and it’s not the case that they’ll field all of their kids but, if they were to get knocked out by Brentford, I don’t think it would be the end of the world. With the way the schedule is looking this season, with a lot of matches to fit in, I don’t think it would be the worst silver lining if they were just able to focus on the league.
Are the club in the market for any additions to the squad this month?
I think they are looking for one or two, yes. Originally, it looked as though there would be a handful of players that they’d be targeting but I think the squad have performed slightly better than anticipated. It’s looking as though they will be targeting attacking reinforcements and there have been quite heavy links with a loan move for Everton’s Yannick Bolasie. There also a bit of a situation with Patrick Roberts because he hasn’t really been playing under Warnock and seems to have dropped quite far down the pecking order, so it appears quite likely that he’ll leave and go back to Manchester City before heading out elsewhere. It might be the case that, if he does leave, Middlesbrough might look for a second attacking option, perhaps a No 10 or a winger, just to add a little bit more quality in attacking areas.
Is Neil Warnock likely to name a full strength side at the Brentford Community Stadium?
It depends on what he’s looking at doing in terms of the league and potentially resting a couple of people. I don’t think he’ll rest loads of players, by any means, but there’s a few key players who’ve played pretty much every minute of the season so far which, considering they played around nine games in the month leading up to Christmas, is a bit ridiculous! I’d imagine it’ll be a 4-3-3, looking something like this: Bettinelli, Dijksteel, Fry, McNair, Bola, Morsy, Saville, Tavernier, Assombalonga, Johnson, Watmore.
What’s your score prediction?
I always find FA Cup games particularly hard to predict because you just never know what either side will do. I know Thomas Frank will want to go out and win the match but with Brentford going hell or high water to get promotion this time around, he might rest a couple. I think it will be fairly even and go to penalties, where Middlesbrough will triumph.
This weekend's FA Cup tie, which kicks-off at 6pm, is exclusively live on the FA Player.