Throughout the second half of the 2018/19 season, millwallfc.co.uk will be analysing The Lions' opponents by taking a look back at their campaign so far. As Neil Harris' men get back on the road this weekend to take on Middlesbrough, we take a look at how Boro’ have fared on the pitch this campaign…
After a Play-Off campaign which ended in disappointment last term, Middlesbrough prepared for 2018/19 with a clear target under Tony Pulis. Despite losing the services of key performers such as Patrick Bamford to Leeds United, and Ben Gibson and Adama Traore to Premier League clubs, Pulis approached the new season with considerable funds – securing Aden Flint, Paddy McNair and Andy Lonergan on permanent deals. Alongside these reinforcements came the initial loan signings of Jordan Hugill, Muhamed Besic and Millwall’s George Saville among others – some of these several matches into the Sky Bet Championship calendar. Boro’s pre-season was mixed in terms of results, with wins over Spennymoor Town, SV Sandhausen and Hartlepool United coupled with defeats to Sturm Graz, Accrington Stanley and Rochdale.
The fixture calendar for the new Championship season pencilled in Pulis’ side for a curtain-raiser in SE16 against Neil Harris’ Lions. At a sold-out, sun-drenched Den, Millwall took a remarkable 2-0 lead before the break with Aiden O’Brien and Lee Gregory getting on the scoresheet. With the second half remaining lively, Boro’ snatched a lifeline in the 87th minute through Martin Braithwaite, before George Friend’s equaliser at the death to snatch a point. Middlesbrough went on to maintain an unbeaten August, momentarily rising to the top of the table and enjoying wins and successive clean sheets against Sheffield United, Birmingham City, Bristol City and West Bromwich Albion. A goalless draw with Leeds United rounded off the month with Pulis’ team in second, with Third Round passage in the Carabao Cup secured after eliminating Notts County and Rochdale.
With just four League games in September, Boro’ looked to make the most of the international break for some of their present new signings to integrate into the side. The team suffered their first defeat of the season by a solitary goal at Norwich City, before sweeping aside Bolton Wanderers at the Riverside. Back-to-back League draws against Swansea City and Hull City came either side of a penalty shootout victory over Preston North End to reach the last 16 of the Carabao Cup. Boro’ sat third going into October.
Middlesbrough continued to look strong in many of their displays during this month, picking up two League away wins and securing a Quarter-Final spot in the Carabao Cup. Beginning with three points in a 2-0 win at Ipswich Town, Boro’ endured a momentary setback at the Riverside as Nottingham Forest claimed their scalp. Returning to winning ways as they edged past Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, the side were then frustrated by two successive home draws against Rotherham United and Derby County. Boro’ signed off October with a solid 1-0 victory at home to Premier League Crystal Palace, progressing to the Carabao Cup last eight.
Middlesbrough looked to pick their consistency up in November, after spending the previous fortnight flirting with the automatic promotion spots in an almighty tight Championship race. A goalless draw at fellow big-spenders Stoke City began the month, before victories either side of the international break – 2-0 against Wigan Athletic and 2-1 at Brentford – lifted the side into second. A 1-1 draw at Preston in the clubs’ second meeting of the season slipped Boro’ back into the Play-Offs, where they have since remained.
The busy Championship schedule heated up further as temperatures dropped in December, with consistency still a lingering problem for Pulis’ men. A 3-0 defeat at the Riverside by Aston Villa, coupled with a home draw against Blackburn Rovers and another loss at QPR saw Boro’ fall to sixth, before arguably the club’s best chance of potentially replicating their 2004 domestic Cup glory arrived – a home clash with Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion. A second-half winner for the visitors handed them a shock Semi-Final place, eliminating Middlesbrough at the last eight stage. A crucial away victory at Reading smoothed matters over just before Christmas, with Sheffield Wednesday becoming the third team to come out on top at the Riverside in December on Boxing Day. A 2-0 home success over Ipswich rounded off 2018, with Boro’ in fifth position.
The New Year got underway with Saville’s move from The Den becoming permanent, and an interesting clash at Derby – playing out a 1-1 draw – before the Emirates FA Cup Third Round commenced. Middlesbrough’s frustration with December’s form appeared to be taken out on opponents Peterborough United, who left the North East beaten by a five-goal margin after a second-half whitewash from the hosts. Boro’s last outing resulted in a 2-1 victory at former manager Garry Monk’s Birmingham City, and the side approach the weekend in fifth spot, eight points from the summit.