Saturday’s late kick-off against Brentford will be the first of three straight televised games for Boro as Tony Pulis’ men look for back-to-back wins for the first time since August.
Reading that statistic without any prior knowledge you would think that Boro were languishing in mid-table being unable to pick up any sort of momentum. That would be extremely harsh on a team that are not necessarily playing free-flowing attacking football, but are ridiculously difficult to beat.
Brentford, on the other hand, have been on a downward slope ever since former-manager Dean Smith decided to step away from Greater London and join boyhood club Aston Villa. Brentford have only won one of their last 10 league fixtures and have slipped down from seventh to 15th since Smith’s departure.
The Bees pride themselves on playing fast attacking football and having scored 27 league goals already this season they’re up there with the likes of Leeds United and Derby County in terms of goals scored. However, it’s been keeping them out at the other end that has proven so often to be their undoing. They’ve only kept three clean sheets so far this season, whilst Boro have almost four times that amount.
The last time these sides met was in March last season when Lewis Macleod levelled for Brentford after Adama Traore had opened the scoring for the away side.
Brentford has often been a fixture that has favoured Middlesbrough, the two play-off wins, of course, spring to mind but Boro haven’t actually tasted defeat against Brentford since 1964. Even that win was in the F.A Cup and so you have to go back to before the Second World War to find the Bees last league victory over Saturday’s opponents. It’s one statistic that Thomas Frank will be looking to put to bed come 5:30pm.
But for Boro, they have a chance to return to the top of the table if Norwich are unable to beat recently relegated Swansea City. After the last international break many wondered if Boro would be up to the task having ten players sent away on international duty over the previous two weeks. Yet, they proved their worth in a 2-0 away win at Hillsborough, let’s hope for a similar result after this international break as well.
In his last match, Jordan Hugill broke his league duct against Wigan Athletic with the striker having two or three other headers that could have seen him go home with the match ball. Hugill has struggled for confidence since his big-money move to West Ham United, getting little game time and being out of favour with new gaffer Manuel Pellegrini. Boro’s number 11 moved to his hometown club to revive his career and two goals in his previous match will have done him no harm whatsoever.
Hugill, in recent weeks, has been accused of going down to easily and wasteful with his chances but last time out it looked like he’d turned a corner. He held onto the ball exceptionally well against a centre-back pairing consisting of 6 ft 7 Dan Burn and 6 ft 3 Cedric Kipre and also showed the confidence of a 20 goal a season striker to take the ball off designated penalty taker Stewart Downing and fire past Christian Walton in the Wigan goal. If he played anything like he did against the Latics, then the Brentford backline are in for another tough afternoon this weekend.
Brentford had to finish their 3-2 defeat to London rivals QPR without top scorer Neal Maupay after he had to be withdrawn following a head incident. It’s unsure whether Maupay will feature in Saturday’s game as Frank stated after the game ‘it’s only a small concussion.’ Although Brentford will still be without Rico Henry and Marcus Forss as they continue to recover from a knee and back injury.
Boro are without loanee Sam McQueen, who is unlikely to feature again this season after suffering a cruciate ligament tear against Crystal Palace. Ryan Shotton is a doubt for Saturday’s game as he continues to recover from his knee injury.
Boro: Randolph, Fry, Batth, Flint, Friend, Clayton, Besic, Howson, Downing, Braithwaite, Hugill.
Brentford: Bentley, Dalsgaard, Konsa, Mepham, Odubajo, McEachran, Yennaris, Canos, Sawyers, Benrahma, Maupay.
Picture Credit: Middlesbrough FC