90′ + 1
Randolph the red nosed Saviour!
The Bees have been swarming around the periphery of the play off places for a while now and despite some recent setbacks with two consecutive losses are more than capable of gate crashing the party despite being eight points adrift before this afternoon’s game. A defeat for them would just about finish their hopes for another season but a win would catapult them back into the mix so there was a huge amount at stake for both sides with no quarter expected and given.
Injuries had left the West Londoners a little depleted of late as squad depth starts to play a major part in the run up to the season’s finale. Bee’s Defenders were a scarce commodity in midweek when they lost to Cardiff with none at all spare on their bench. Hopefully Boro would be able to take advantage especially with the scintillating form of Paddy and Adama of late. Dean Smith was without four of his squad on Tuesday night with Andreas Bjelland, Florian Jozefzoon and Rico Henry all missing through injury. The fourth, Henrik Dalsgaard was in attendance at the local maternity ward awaiting the birth of his child. The Bee’s Boss however expected that both Jozefzoon and Dalsgaard would be back today to boost things against Boro but that Bjelland and Henry would still be absent. Alan Judge and Lewis Macleod were both easing their way back from long term layoffs and if available their fitness levels might be questionable.
For TP Dani Ayala had picked up a groin strain and had missed training all week but Grant was back giving him a conundrum as to who to pick centrally as Clayts has filled in well in his absence. Besic and Bamford were both carrying niggles last weekend but hopefully not having a Tuesday night fixture may have sorted them. Fabio appears to be fit again so apart from Ayala only long termer Gestede was definitely unavailable. The team news at Griffin Park revealed that Dalsgaard and Jozefzoon both made the Bees starting line-up as expected along with MacLeod and Judge making the bench. Boro were unchanged from Barnsley with Ayala passing a late fitness test and the only change being Grant in for Marvin Johnson on the bench.
The sides tentatively entered the Griffin Park pitch initially looking more concerned about the blustery icy cold than their opponent’s abilities. The game perhaps dictated by the meteorological influences rather than game plans started like two boxers dancing around the ring, weighing up their opponent before trying to land and serious blows. The first real action occurred in the 10th minute when Ben saved our blushes followed by another attempt into the box a moment later which was cleared by a half fit Ayala.
Brentford should have taken the lead from close range as a free kick was delivered into the Boro box but fortunately Neal Maupay sliced his shot over from just outside the 6 yard box. Boro then broke away down the other end with Adama sprinting clear before being cynically chopped down by Woods receiving a yellow for his troubles. On twenty minutes Stewy got a great ball in for Howson who couldn’t quite get the ball under control and Bentley managed to push the effort out for a Boro Corner. From that Corner it was Brentford’s turn and broke down the opposite end only for the ball to come straight back up to Stewy who grappled past two defenders feeding Adama who tracked across the 18 yard box losing his marker and smashing the ball home from the “D” to put Boro1-0 up against the run of play. That’s what Adama gives us away from home, that ability to break and turn defence into attack but now under Tony Pulis the lad now has an end product.
Not long after Adama unleashed another effort causing Bentley to pull off a good save. Brentford needing to get a result from this game now pushed up with even greater gusto. A Besic intervention conceded the Bee’s first corner of the game but the poor execution never troubled our defence. Clayts clattered awkwardly into Mokotjo to pick up a yellow as Brentford were trying to get their heads clear and take the game to Boro who were now characteristically sitting deep.
After a Bamford effort Brentford again then quickly turned taking the game back to Boro resulting in Macleod putting the ball past Randolph into the bottom right hand corner after some suspect defending. A few harsh words were exchanged between those in white shirts mainly Gibson, Clayton and Besic. Mo Besic may only be here on loan but he clearly takes his football very seriously and was particularly unhappy at the manner at which his side was undone and with very good reason.
The warning signs had been there as only five minutes previously Randolph had to tip an effort over the bar from the same player. Boro were now being pulled all over and Pulis was extremely animated at what he was witnessing in the coaching area. Brentford were moving the ball around quickly with TP yelling instructions onto the pitch to get closer, anticipate and cut out the slick build ups from the wide areas.
At this stage Boro needed the half time whistle to go as they were on the ropes. Everything cleared up the pitch was being picked off with the Bees getting straight back at Boro, clearly now feeling they were capable of taking the lead before the half time whistle. An Adama run had Maupay desperately chasing his vapour trail and Bentley closing his angles resulted in the ball going out for a Boro throw in. A Clayton headed clearance from a Macleod corner ended the first half keeping the scores level and TP an opportunity to reorganise his troops and provide better service to Bamford and Adama.
Both sides restarted the second forty five minutes unchanged with Boro now kicking towards the freezing travelling army. The second half started pretty much the same as the first half had panned out with Brentford putting pressure on the Boro defence and Adama the sole outlet for Boro. We intermittently flickered to life with a penalty claim for a foul on Howson and then Downing left two Brentford players for dead with Dalsgaard taking a yellow for the Bees. Adama sent the resulting free kick into the Brentford box but the Ref blew for a foul on Bentley the Brentford Keeper. Boro now enjoyed a little more influence in the game and just as they looked to be asserting themselves Brentford went down the Boro end and created another opportunity of their own which defined this game. A great game for the neutral but a bit nervy for both sets of fans and as Dael Fry was warming up a great chance fell to Paddy who missed his chance. Brentford then appropriately and predictably flew up the other end with the ball cannoning off Ryan Shotton for a Bees corner.
Randolph comfortably gathered the Corner kick into the box as Dael Fry continued his long wait to replace Dani Ayala eventually entering the field on 60 minutes in a like for like swap. Besic went in hard on Dalsgaard to pick up a yellow with the home fans screaming for his dismissal. Maupay then had another chance immediately after the Besic booking only to repeat his previous high and wild effort thankfully for Randolph. Traore then duplicated the feat at the other end sending a Boro chance well over as the game was opening up a little. Chances were occurring at both ends with Brentford pressing, Boro looking to break and neither side settling for the draw.
Grant was brought on for Howson as TP was keen to try and break up the Brentford attacks which resulted almost immediately in a dangerous free kick on the edge of the Boro 18 yard box. The kick from Jozefzoon hit off the White wall and quick clearance up field resulted in a Boro throw in allowing Dean Smith to make his fist sub of the day with Canos coming on for Watkins. Upon the restart Randolph almost immediately had to get down to his left to prevent the Bees taking the lead. Tactically Besic had moved further up the pitch when Grant was introduced with Clayts and Grant now shielding the defence.
The game see-sawed up and down Griffin Park with Boro still content to set up breaks from deep and Brentford continuing their passing with movement and pace. Smith then brought off goal scoring returnee Macleod whilst TP brought off Besic and put Assombalonga on in a more determined 442 formation for the remaining quarter of an hour. Boro then had Ben to thank for another block with Clayts making a pigs ear of trying to clear the ball (giving away a corner in the process) followed up immediately with a second corner which was finally cleared up to Britt releasing Traore who lost possession and the ball came straight back at us again and another effort flew past Randolph’s far post.
Ten minutes remaining and Brentford were still pushing despite Boro’s tactical switch and Randolph once again pulled off a brilliant save to concede a corner which he gathered safely. The clearance up the pitch saw Bamford lose out but Clayts pick up the loose ball and ended with a Traore effort going out for a corner which was eventually delivered badly with the ball going out for a goal kick along with the snow flurries building temporary momentum.
The last throw of the Brentford dice saw Mokotjo go off and Northern Irishman Judge come on and immediately launch an attack after robbing Assombalonga. Some sloppy play from Grant kept us on the back foot. Brentford kept peppering the Boro box pushing for the winner as a cleared ball once again failed to be held up by Britt and Boro were rocking. In a Boro break out Traore charged out of his own box heading towards the half way line but Sawyers took his turn to cynically fell Adama and break the attack up. From the free kick Adama was once again ridiculously brought down for another free kick allowing Boro’s big units from the back to go up to the opposition 18 yard box. Stewy deftly dropped the free kick onto Britt whose header looped up but was adjudged off side and once again Brentford stormed out taking the free kick quickly.
In the last minute Traore lost the ball as his attempt to break Brentford came straight back at us with George this time taking a yellow for the team. As the ball was eventually cleared the fourth official signalled five minutes of added time with Sawyers clattering into breaking Britt for his second yellow and sent off. At this stage the 11 Boro men versus the 10 of Brentford mattered for little as any semblance of tactics and organisation was diminished along with Clayton hobbling off injured temporarily restoring the sides to 10 v 10. Clayts manfully limped back onto the pitch as Brentford kept the pressure up winning a corner off a Grant deflection. Bamford met the corner with Randolph collecting it setting up Britt who back heeled to the now advancing Bamford who was wiped out as yet another yellow was issued.
Boro took their chance from the free kick and won a corner which Paddy then connected with but was blocked for another Boro corner in the dying seconds which was cleared at the Ref blew signalling the end of the game. An away draw against a decent side, keen to preserve their own play-off hopes and in very difficult conditions was a good result from a rear-guard Boro perspective.
MOM for Boro on St. Patrick’s Day unfortunately wasn’t Paddy as we had all hoped for but perhaps more appropriately was Darren Randolph who pulled off several saves to keep the very busy Bees at bay and Boro still in the top six over the International bore fest. My main observation from this afternoon was that teams are deciding to take Traore out rather than try and play him. If we are to keep the fair advantage he gives us some equally cynical gamesmanship needs introducing and soon. Some ridiculous over the top faux reactions from Boro players charging over to the fouling defender early on should focus Officials attention.
Boro begin to spy a play-off place
as season comes in from the cold
As the world increasingly takes on the tone of a John le Carré novel, Boro followers are more focussed with the intrigue surrounding the cloak-and-dagger world of trying to make the Championship play-offs. The recent run of good results have meant everything is a bit more smiley on Teesside as Boro’s less than clandestine promotion plans have come in from the cold. Many had been rushin’ to write off the season after agent Monk was finally exposed and then expelled for being careless in the field as operation ‘Smash the League’ was seemingly sabotaged beyond repair. However, Tony Pulis has not been one to tinker much with his first XI since he arrived as he much prefers to tailor his players to his needs rather than soldier on with those who have been defective, which has left the Boro manager beginning to spy a place in the play-offs.
Despite Sheffield United winning in midweek to close the gap on Boro to just two points, the Teessiders will be determined to prevent the Blades slicing further into their lead as they hope to avoid being stung by the Bees. Tony Pulis heads to Griffin Park in search of that rare mythical beast of four wins in a row, the likes of which have not been witnessed for quite a long while. Indeed the Boro faithful were beginning to doubt they would ever see such a winning run, though help may be a hand as it was once believed that a feather from the griffin could restore sight to the blind. Other key fixtures this weekend see both Sheff Utd and Bristol at home to Forest and Ipswich respectively, with Preston off for a day out at the Stadium of Light, so our promotion rivals may be hoping to gain ground. However, Boro have a good record at Brentford and have won their last three encounters there, including the one in the play-offs, which may be a good omen and Tony Pulis’s team will be buzzing if they return with all three points.
Psychologically it will be important for Boro to ensure they remain in the top six, especially with the two-week snooze-fest coming up and any dropping off the pace on Saturday will leave plenty of time to lie awake at night worrying about the Good Friday visit by top of the table Wolves and the nightmare of missing out on the play-offs. Though one player who may soon be looking forward to international breaks is in-form striker Patrick Bamford – who has been courted by Martin O’Neill to play for the Republic of Ireland. Bamford seemingly qualifies to play for Ireland by virtue of being called Patrick, which apparently is written into the Irish FA constitution as you are then deemed to be a grandson of the emerald isle. Admittedly he’s still working on the accent and is still unsure (to be sure) that he’s up for the crack as he hasn’t yet given up on being the next Harry Kane instead – incidentally, I think being called Harry also probably qualifies you to play for England, though is possibly a bar to managing them.
Tony Pulis now finds himself in the somewhat strange territory of being involved in a battle at the top of the table where the name of the game is winning rather than avoiding defeat. It perhaps requires a different mindset of developing a winning mentality and one he needs to instil into the players if Boro are to remain in the top six. The Boro manager may have allowed himself a nostalgic glance towards the foot of the Premier League table, where he will have no doubt noticed that his three former clubs (West Brom, Crystal Palace and Stoke) currently occupy the three relegation slots. Indeed, if Pulis fails in his mission to take his new team up this term it may well be at these old stomping grounds where Boro will need to stamp their promotion credentials next season.
|Dean Smith||Tony Pulis|
|P37 – W14 – D11 – L12 – F53 – A45||P37 – W18 – D7 – L12 – F53 – A35|
Points per game
Points per game
|Last 6 Games
1:3 (1:2) L
0:1 (0:1) L
2:0 (0:0) W
0:1 (0:1) L
5:0 (2:0) W
2:0 (2:0) W
|Last 6 Games
3:1 (2:0) W
1:0 (1:0) W
3:0 (2:0) W
3:3 (0:1) D
3:1 (2:1) W
0:1 (0:1) L
International breaks at the best of times have become an unwelcome interruption to those who are mainly absorbed by the main event of following their club. Meaningless international friendlies are like an eternal ad-break of PPI ambulance chasers tempting you with the money to buy a cheap DFS beige leather sofa to make your simple life sophisticated, as you only wish that the fast-forward button worked so that you could skip to the crucial stage in the thriller you were intensely watching. Although, the merits of having such an ill-timed distracting pause is now even more dubious with the sudden semi-return to cold war politics, which may yet prove to be a final curtain call for Putin’s now seemingly pointless big state PR event on the world stage that was supposed to cement his ‘re-election’ after quite literally seeing off the opposition.
Mother Russia’s apparent unwelcome recent gift of a box Novichocs (other more military strength spellings are available) to a former intelligence colonel has had them labelled a rogue state, which were seemingly anonymously delivered with barely a glimpse of the man dressed in black with a Moloko Tray calling card – replacing the usual Polonium tea and deepest sympathy that is reserved for those who have fallen deeply out of Kremlin favour. Whilst the UK’s response of not deploying the likes of Boris Johnson or Prince William at the tournament may not be overly concerning to Mr Putin, it seems the political manoeuvring and increased tensions ahead of the forthcoming World Cup will probably end up overshadowing events on the pitch – even placing in doubt whether it actually takes place at all.
At the very least, it will perhaps leave Gareth Southgate and his players feeling that they’re unlikely to receive favours from any Russian linesmen in their bid to emulate their 1966 predecessors in lifting the trophy. Indeed, one can only imagine the fate that awaits any fueled-up English supporter who foolishly places an unwise toenail out of line before barely getting the chance to finish the chant of ‘Ingerland’. Though Russia’s treatment of those elements among the English supporters, who in their delusions believe they’re acting as pseudo-ambassadors for a fallen empire as they spoil for more than just a Ferrero Rocher, may prove to be beneficial to some. I suspect West Ham owner David Sullivan, whose penchant for wearing the Russian ushanka hat with a similarly themed Politburo overcoat, will be more than happy if a huge swathe of his less-than happy Hammers spend much of next season in a Siberian Gulag.
The ugly protests at the Olympic Stadium last weekend had Sullivan eventually being escorted from his seat for his own safety, plus some young children caught up in the bile were kindly given refuge on the Burnley bench. Perhaps the under fire owner may be inspired for the next home game by the Russian owner of Greek side PAOK Salonika in terms of giving off a message that he’s not to be messed with. The Russian oligarch Ivan Savvidis came onto the pitch to protest at the referee about a disallowed goal in the top of the table game against AEK Athens whilst nonchalantly packing a pistol in a hip holster – better still perhaps Sullivan could accessorise his Soviet chic with a rather fetching Kalashnikov and then we’ll see how many of the seemingly derailed ‘Inter City Firm’ feel lucky. Incidentally the Greek league was subsequently suspended following the incident and will only resume once the issue of crowd violence has been resolved – with a recent game between PAOK and Olympiakos also being suspended after opposition manager and former Watford boss Oscar Garcia was hit in head with toilet roll and ‘taken to hospital’ – whilst it doesn’t sound like weaponised Andrex is an obvious danger to health, it’s not clear if the Labrador puppy was still attached.
Talking of lethal weapons, the Russian president only last week boasted that they now possess a advanced hypersonic missile, which travels so fast and can change direction that it cannot be stopped by any existing defences. The fear spread by launching an Advanced Defence Avoidance Missile Attack (ADAMA) has lead to many strategists wondering just how to stop something so fast – doubling or trebling up defensive resources has been tried but usually by the time it has been spotted it’s usually too late to do anything as it accelerates past them. Earlier launches of this ground-hugging missile initially proved to be a little wayward but with the introduction of the Pulse guidance system it has turned it into a much more effective weapon and has now frequently started hitting the target. Whilst in the developing stages it proved to be a little temperamental it has also been further refined to avoid the earlier risk of self destructing. We are now perhaps only beginning to understand the potential of such an offensive weapon and many fully expect to see its deployment on the world stage in the near future.
So will Boro hold their nerve and apply the pressure on their opponents as they continue to expunge their rivals from the promotion party? Or will Brentford lure Tony Pulis’s men into a honey trap before swarming our defence and stealing all the nectar points? As ususal your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Paddy prove he’s got the luck of the Irish and continue his run of scoring on St Bamford day?