The January transfer window has now come and gone for teams across the EFL, with managers now having to stick with their current squads to achieve their goals for the season.
For hosts Middlesbrough, the play-offs seem to be the more realistic route, as they are currently sat in seventh. But for Saturday’s visitors Brentford, only automatic promotion will do, after last season’s heartache.
Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock could hand a debut to deadline day signing Neeskens Kebano, however their other last minute signing Nathaniel Mandez-Liang will need some time before he is ready for first team action. Marcus Tavernier and Dael Fry are the other injury concerns ahead of the match.
In the other camp, Brentford manager Thomas Frank will be without centre-back Pontus Jansson, as well as midfielders Shandon Baptiste and Christian Norgaard. There are also doubts over the availability of both Josh DaSilva and Bryan Mbeumo.
(4-5-1) Bettinelli, Fisher, Coulson, McNair, Bola, Spence, Morsy, Kebano, Watmore, Johnson, Bolasie.
(4-3-3) Raya, Dalsgaard, Pinnock, Sorenson, Henry, Ghoddoa, Janelt, Jensen, Fosu, Toney, Canos.
The Teesiders come into the game off the back of some poor form, having won just one of their last six in all competitions, and lost their last three at home without scoring. The most recent being a 3-0 reverse at home to a struggling Rotherham United side. The lack of goals will have been an issue for Warnock, hence the attack-minded signings being made.
Meanwhile, the Bees come into the game in much more impressive form, as they will be looking to make it an incredible 20 league games unbeaten this Saturday. Having last lost a Championship game way back in October to Stoke City. Goalscoring hasn’t been an issue either, as they have bagged ten goals in their last two wins over Bristol City and Wycombe Wanderers.
Ones to watch
As aforementioned, attacking prowess is something that Boro have been struggling with in recent weeks, so the signing of wideman Kebano on loan from Fulham could help greatly with that. He is in line to make his debut here, and will be looking to make an instant impact. The former PSG youth player had struggled for game time since the Cottagers’ promotion to the top flight, so will want to also prove that he can still perform when called upon.
A player who doesn’t need to prove that he can perform at this level is striker Ivan Toney. The summer signing from Peterborough United is the league’s top scorer with 20 goals in 26 games, being a key factor in why his side are performing so well this season. Brentford will be relying on Toney to keep up his deadly touch in front of goal if they are to maintain their push for an automatic promotion spot, but more immediately, three points on Saturday.
This will be the third time that these sides have met this season, having come up against one another in the FA Cup third round last month. Brentford claimed a 2-1 win to advance to the next round, with their prior league meeting being a goalless draw in November. That result was the only time Boro have avoided defeat against the Bees in the last five meetings. In fact, they’ve only beaten them once in their last eight attempts, and will be looking for a first home win over them since 2015.
The game is available to watch for both sets of fans on each club’s individual iFollow pages. For season ticket holding Middlesbrough fans, the link is obtainable for free.
What the managers have said
Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock spoke to local ITV news ahead of the game, and is expecting a tough challenge against a very strong side. He said:
“Well they’re the best team in the league, to go 19 games (unbeaten) takes some doing at the Championship level.”
“They’ve got goals from everywhere, best striker in the division, it looks as though there is only one way they’re going to go really.
"Last week (Norwich) and this week are almost free hits really, I said to the lads lets have a go.”
In the other dugout, Brentford boss Thomas Frank spoke to the club’s media after their most recent win, and has spoke about his side’s qualities. He said:
“It’s that togetherness, attitude and the desire, just wanted to want to get into the game.”
“There’s things we still need to learn, especially in our offensive structure and decision making.
“Of course it’s nice to be in the position (second), but it’s where we are going to be when the season ends, it’s all about that.”