Behind Enemy Lines: Middlesbrough

MILLWALL are are back on the road this afternoon as they travel to the north east to face Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough.

The Lions are winless in nine Championship matches and have not won on Teesside since 2014.

Alex Grace spoke to Boro fan Dana Malt ahead of the game.

Twitter: @danasmfc

Why do you support Middlesbrough?

They’re my local team. Once I went to a game I got sucked in and I haven’t been spat back out.

Even Tony Pulis and his god-awful football couldn’t put me off.

What season did you first start following Boro?

2007-08. My first game was the second from last home game of that campaign, the home game before we ever so casually beat Manchester City 8-1.

What is the most memorable Boro game you’ve seen?

The aforementioned City victory is up there, for sure.

Playing Liverpool away in the League Cup third round in 2014-15, and that seemingly never-ending penalty shootout that we lost 14-13, is also up there.

As is Brentford at home in the play-off semi-final second leg in 2015 when we won 3-0 to go through to the final.

Beating Manchester City 2-0 away in the fourth round of the FA Cup that campaign, and Manchester United on penalties at Old Trafford in the fourth round of the League Cup the following season.

Neil Warnock replaced Jonathan Woodgate last June – are the fans happy with him at the helm?

Absolutely. We’re lucky to have Warnock in charge. He’s what we should’ve had after Garry Monk, really.

It’s hard not to love Neil Warnock, he’s a breath of fresh air and his enthusiasm is infectious – even for the most doom and gloom of supporters.

What has he managed to change is such a short period of time?

He’s picked up an out-of-sorts squad and helped elevate their games as individuals and as part of a team.

Marc Bola is a fine example: he couldn’t even get into Blackpool’s team while out on loan, and six months later he’s a regular for Boro.

George Saville joined Middlesbrough from Millwall two seasons ago – what are the thoughts of Boro fans on him?

It’s been a tough couple of years for Saville since his move.

The price tag he came with has always weighed heavy, and when you join a club for such a substantial amount, naturally there’s big expectation.

Tony Pulis certainly didn’t help his cause by playing him left wing-back, and even last season under Woodgate you could argue he wasn’t being played in his preferred role of that box-to-box midfielder.

Under Warnock he’s improved considerably. On the podcast we always tried to find out: “what is a George Saville?” But we know it now, we’ve seen it. His numbers are already better than any of his other campaigns in a Boro shirt, and hopefully this season really is the making of Sav on Teesside.

Jed Wallace against Middlesbrough in 2018-19

It’s been a really solid start for Boro so far – what have you made of it?

It’s been largely positive, although there are issues that have been put under a microscope over the last couple of games in particular, and that’s our lack of guile up top. It’s always been our Achilles heel, but it feels more prominent at present.

Our defence started off incredibly well, we boasted the best defence in the country at one point, but injuries and a subsequent change in formation as well as potentially tired minds has meant we’ve now conceded more goals in our last four games than we did in the first 13 of the season.

What are your aspirations for the campaign?

I always said mid-table will be fine for me, just as long as I see notable progress.

All in all I think we are seeing improvement, but there are aspects of our game that we need to refine, such as our play in the final third. If we can sort that out by the final game week of the season, I’ll be very happy.

What are your thoughts on Lions boss Gary Rowett?

I’ve always thought Rowett has potential to be an established promotion-challenging manager, but for whatever reason he doesn’t quite take that next step.

A little bit like Lee Johnson when he was at Bristol City, mostly on the cusp, but never quite there.

Where do Middlesbrough need to strengthen in January?

Out wide, 100 per cent. We almost brought in Yannick Bolasie in the summer, but a deal fell through at the final hurdle.

Kamil Grosicki has been linked as well. I’d take both of them. For a team that attacks predominantly down the wings, our crossing is usually abysmal. That has to change.

If you could add a Millwall player to the Boro side, who would they be and why?

The obvious pick: Jed Wallace.

Who are Middlesbrough’s danger men and why?

Paddy McNair is a threat given his set-pieces. It’s a shame barely anybody gets on the end of them, mind.

Marvin Johnson is currently our most in-form player, so he could be included in that ‘danger man’ category. On his day he’s Mr Whippy, his crosses are unbelievable. But as I mentioned earlier our crossing is abysmal on the whole, so his day is not as frequent as we’d all like.

However, he was the only real positive from our defeat to Preston mid-week, so hopefully for us he keeps up his good form (and it’s worth mentioning he’s our top-scorer).

Unfortunately, Middlesbrough is in Tier 3 of Covid-19 restrictions, meaning that no fans will be able to attend the game – will you be watching home?

I will indeed.

What’s your predicted Middlesbrough starting XI and formation?

Tough one. A few potential doubts but I think it could well be:


Bettinelli; McNair, Fry, Dijksteel; Johnson, Howson, Morsy, Saville, Tavernier; Watmore, Assombalonga.

And finally, a score prediction?

2-0 Boro. I hope!

Graphic: @ShedCreative