Nerves are likely to be on edge come Friday night, as Middlesbrough and Brentford contest their Championship Playoff second leg at the Riverside.
Boro’ come into the game with a slender 2-1 advantage after Fernando Amorebieta’s stoppage time goal at Griffin Park last Friday night, giving Aitor Karanka’s men the upper hand, as both teams vie for a spot at Wembley at the end of the month and a shot at promotion, to the richest league in the world.
Generally, one can take domestic form at the culmination of a season with a pinch of salt, certainly in context of a two-legged one-off tie. However, if we do, we can see both The Smoggies and The Bees have had similarly rocky performances of late.
Of the last ten outings, Karanka’s men have won six, but lost three, playing out a goalless draw with Brighton on the final day of the season, which saw the Teesiders finish fourth below Norwich. Boro’ are however, unbeaten at home since February.
Brentford have drawn as many of their last ten games as they have won (four) but worth noting is The Bees have won three of their last five games on the road.
For outgoing boss Mark Warburton, this could be his last match in charge at Griffin Park and will want his charges to give their manager more than a fighting send-off.
When the two sides met at the Riverside back in September, Brentford were on the receiving end of a four-nil demolition. Warburton will not only have to prevent his side from a repeat performance, but know they will have to score at least once.
The major development over the last few days is the news that Championship Player of the Season, Boro’s Chelsea-loanee Patrick Bamford, may miss out with an achilles problem. Aitor Karanka has said they are monitoring his pain levels and will not risk him unless absolutely necessary.
If Bamford does miss out, expect Griffin Park scorer Jelle Vossen to lead the line, with Albert Adomah and Adam Reach either side and Manchester City’s chief conqueror Lee Tomlin, in the Boro engine room.
Brentford are expected to be unchanged with top-scorer Andre Gray hoping to be Middlesbrough’s chief tormentor. Spurs-loanee Matt Pritchard’s set piece wizardy will could also problematic for Karanka’s side, with Alan Judge also sniping.
Can Brentford’s mauling earlier in the season spur The Bees onto a surprise result at the Riverside and see Mark Warburton’s stocks rise even further? Or can Aitor Karanka guide his side towards a £130m, winner-take-all showdown on Monday week?
Prediction: Middlesbrough 2- 1 Brentford (agg 4-2)