CAN Brentford turn their Championship play-off semi-final around? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has a look at the best bets on offer for Friday night’s duel.
Middlesbrough v Brentford | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
It’s advantage Middlesbrough following last Friday’s first leg with Fernando Amorebieta’s stoppage-time goal giving the Teesiders a potentially decisive 2-1 lead. It was a hard and close-fought encounter that now sets up a tense return leg at the Riverside, a high-stakes shoot-out, if you will…
Aitor Karanka’s men showed plenty of bite in a match that featured nine yellow cards and with a packed Riverside Stadium awaiting their heroes, Boro fans are dreaming of a return to the Premier League. It’s six years since Middlesbrough were a top tier club and with 11 wins from 13 on home soil, you can understand the confidence amongst the Boro faithful.
The hosts can be backed at even-money with Coral and it’s hard not to be interested at that price, even for a bloke who’s consistently wanted to oppose Karanka’s team. It’s nothing personal, I just can’t bring myself to show Middlesbrough any kind of love. I just find them very… grey; they’re just there, aren’t they? They don’t really do much but they’re always around. Meh.
But I’ll put the niceties aside and put my hard-earned cash on Boro repeating their first leg trick and sealing a place at Wembley. Ignore their 4-0 win over Brentford at the Riverside in September (Bees boss Mark Warburton described it as ‘by far their worst performance of the season’) and the Teesiders have done a job on the Londoners twice at Griffin Park.
On both occasions Karanka’s charges have defended deep and stout and been clinical enough to pinch a win. Admittedly the league encounter saw Boro clearly second-best but the fact they’ve beaten the Bees in all three meetings this term is surely going to give them the psychological edge, alongside their excellent home record.
It’s also worth noting that a few of the Brentford players may have written Karanka’s pre-match pep talk for him. Harlee Dean has accused Middlesbrough of being far too predictable in attack, claiming they can only score through set-pieces and counter-attacks whilst Moses Odubajo has confidently claimed that the Bees will be “better” than Boro in Friday’s decider.
Boss Warburton revealed he’s been in touch with former Watford colleagues Malky Mackay, Brendan Rodgers and Sean Dyche to help his side’s preparation but he won’t have been too pleased with the fuel added to the fire by his players’ public comments ahead of the second leg.
The Bees manager passes Wembley on his way to work every morning but sadly, I see their dream dying at the Riverside. In 11 matches against top-six clubs this season Brentford have returned W2-D1-L8, conceding at least twice in six of those games and failing to keep a clean sheet.
Boro have leaked just 12 goals on home soil this season and only once has a visiting side netted twice or more – should the hosts grab a goal, you have fancy them to seal their place in the final.
I’m also going to have a stab at Both Teams To Score with Ladbrokes offering 17/20. Boro did concede in six of their 11 when welcoming top-half clubs and Warburton’s visitors tend to grab a goal, only failing to notch in four of their last 34 Championship matches.
Championship play-off semi-final second legs tend to be high-scoring as teams go on the offensive with Wembley waiting and in the past five years, eight of the 10 second legs have broken the Over 2.5 Goals barrier. But with little to choose between the Overs price (19/20 Ladbrokes) and BTTS (17/20), I’m happier opting for the latter, covering us against a 1-1.