IT is Boro v Brentford in the play off semi-finals following a goalless draw on Teesside and a home win in West London this afternoon. GORDON COX reports from the Riverside.
The Boro side showed four changes to the side that lost 4-3 to Fulham last Saturday, with Dwight Tiendalli making his home debut at the expense of Ryan Fredericks, Fernando Amorebieta came in at left-back for George Friend who served a one-match suspension, while Adam Forshaw and Kike, who both ended the game at Craven Cottage last week, started ahead of Jelle Vossen, who made the bench, and Patrick Bamford, who didn’t.
There were three changes for Brighton, Christian Walton replaced David Stockdale in goal, while Rohan Ince and Kazenga Lua Lua came in for Bruno Saltor and Mustapha Carayol, whose loan on the south coast ended last week, allowing him to take his place on the Boro bench. Former Boro Academy player Joe Bennett made his 42nd appearance of the season for the Seagulls, on loan from Aston Villa.
A lively atmosphere at kick-off took off a minute into the game as the Boro fans stood around the ground and chanted “There’s only one Stevie Gibson”, a chant quickly followed by “The mighty Boro we’re going up”.
Far from easing in to the game, both sides set off at a good pace and Boro had to scramble clear from a Dale Stephens corner, while Gordon Greer wasn’t too far away a few minutes later.
Boro had to be patient and often were in building towards the Brighton box, as it was clear they were going to have to work for a breakthrough.
Effective hold up play from Kike brought Forshaw, Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter in to play as the quartet combined to set up Albert Adomah who brought a flying diving save away to his right from Walton who was making just his fourth appearance of the season and third in the Championship.
Tiendalli then combined well with Kike deep in Brighton territory on the right to set up Adomah whose low shot from 11 yards was deflected away for a corner.
A surging run from Amorebieta took him to the right edge of the Brighton penalty area. A low cross was just a foot or so out of the reach of Kike who would have been left with a clear shot on goal 12 yards out.
Brighton were game, but were well marshalled when approaching the edge of the Boro box.
And the visitors upped their game, completing a confident 15-pass move from back to front, but Beram Kayal’s effort was dragged wide of Konstantopoulos’s right-hand post from the edge of the Boro box.
Half-time: Middlesbrough 0 Brighton 0
During the half-time break Boro’s U21s, together with their backroom staff and coaches, were introduced to the crowd after they secured promotion to Division One of the Barclays U21 Premier League during the week. A win for Reading last night means Boro will have to wait until the final day of the season in two weeks’ time to try and secure the title.
Game back underway and both sides went for goal in the opening five minutes of the second half. Kazenga Lua Lua was not far off target with a very good effort from out wide on the left before Forshaw volleyed at Walton from a central position just inside the penalty area.
With scores changing around the country Boro’s opponents for the play offs were different every 10 minutes or so and that seemed to be taking the attention of the fans who seem absorbed with details from afar in the absence of too much to get excited about here.
Kike went close when meeting a cross from the left, Leadbitter had a shot charged down and not long after his part in a double change Jelle Vossen went for goal only to see his chance blocked.
Brighton broke and a fine cross from the left from right-back Greg Halford picked out Lua Lua who might have done better than to head over from close range.
A low cross from Nsue picked out Kike, but a low shot was never going to trouble Walton. Neither was another from Kike as the game entered the first of five minutes of added time.
Deep in injury time Boro won a corner with fans imploring Konstantopoulos to go up for it. He didn’t, perhaps just as well as he was called on the make a save as a Brighton break ended with a tame shot from Calderon.
The biggest crowd of the season in the Championship were not to be treated to a goal.
The other semi-final will be contested between Ipswich and Norwich.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos; Tiendalli (Nsue 59), Ayala, Gibson, Amorebieta, Leadbitter, Clayton, Adomah, Forshaw (Vossen 59), Tomlin (Reach 72), Kike. Subs: Ripley (gk); Omeruo, Whitehead, Carayol. Order of subs on 59: 1) Vossen 2) Nsue
Brighton: Walton; Halford, Greer (Capt.), Dunk, Bennett, Lua Lua, Ince (Calderon 79), Stephens, Forster-Caskey (Tilley 90+5), Kayal, O‘Grady (Mackail-Smith 71). Subs: Stockdale (gk); Bruno, Holla, Best.
Referee Andrew Madley
Middlesbrough Tiendalli 34, foul
Brighton Forster-Caskey 86, shirt pull
Attendance 33,381 (629 Brighton)
Conditions Bright, cold and breezy
Play off ticket number. This number replaces any others for the ticket office for the duration of the play offs.
Boro Play-Off Hotline - 0843 816 1986