Behind Enemy Lines: Middlesbrough

THE new season is upon us. Millwall host Tony Pulis' Middlesbrough side on Saturday, one of the favourites for promotion to the Premier League this season.

Neil Harris should have a fully fit squad to choose from, though may opt not to include new signing Jiri Skalak given he hasn't played in a competitive game since the end of January.

Pulis spent a combined £12million on Aden Flint and Paddy McNair this summer, again emphasising how far financially the Lions are behind some of the heavyweights in the second tier.

Ahead of the game, Lucas Ball spoke to Boro fan Chris Cassidy, a writer for Boropolis.

Twitter: @CCass6

Why do you support Middlesbrough?

Despite being born in Northumberland, it was always going to be Middlesbrough. My dad is from that area and had me in Boro baby grows since day dot. You could say I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but I love him for it now.

What's been your favourite season supporting Boro?

For me it has to be the promotion season of 2015-16. The year before we had come so close – getting beaten at Wembley by Norwich. But a year later to get the job done in such dramatic fashion on the final day to finish second and win promotion to the Premier League made it all worth it.

That season as a whole was full of drama but the end result will forever be remembered.

Do you think that Tony Pulis is the right man for the job?

After Garry Monk left last year I was certain Pulis was the right man for the job but there has been a little bit of uncertainty since.

Don’t get me wrong, he got us into the play-offs and that in itself was an achievement, but I just worry about his philosophy and his obsession with players over 6ft.

What are your expectations for this season?

I think most fans, including myself, expect us to be there or thereabouts for promotion and with a couple of additions we could challenge for an automatic promotion spot. However, if the transfer window shut now I think reaching the play-offs would be a success.

How would you assess Boro's transfer window?

The two players we have brought in I’m happy with.

For years Aden Flint has been regarded as one of the best defenders in the division and his addition only makes us stronger in that department.

As for Paddy McNair, he has struggled with injury in the past but had a great end to the season and a good goals return, so if he can stay fit he should be a valuable asset.

The most important piece of business the club could do, though, is keeping hold of Adama Traoré. The guy is electric and pretty much singlehandedly dragged us into the play-offs last year. It comes as no surprise there is Premier League interest after a string of very impressive performances in the second half of last season.

Who will be Pulis' key men come Saturday afternoon?

Traoré is the obvious key man but it’s yet to be seen if he is available after injuring his shoulder during pre-season.

If he isn’t available it may be Flint not only for his set-piece threat but also helping to deal with Steve Morison and Lee Gregory, who are always a danger.

How would you assess this Millwall side?

They don’t seem to have done a great deal of business. Obviously you missed out on Ben Marshall to Norwich who looked a constant threat at the Riverside.

I think Millwall probably need someone to fill his absence before the end of the window, and it looks like you might have got that in Jiri Skalak.

The obvious problems from us will come from Morison and Gregory who are a handful for most teams because of their physicality. In fact, if Millwall could find some competition for those two up top it may even make you more dangerous.

What’s your predicted Middlesbrough starting XI and formation?

Depending on the fitness of Adama, I think the line-up will be the same team that started against Sunderland in our final friendly.

The formation varies between 4-3-3 and a trademark Pulis 4-5-1 when we don’t have the ball. So it’s likely to be as follows:


Randolph; Shotton, Flint, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Howson, Leadbitter; Traoré, Assombalonga, Downing.

Finally, what's your score prediction?

I must say I’m not overly confident going into the game and I always fear going to The Den.

But I’ll be optimistic: Millwall 0-1 Middlesbrough – the stereotypical Tony Pulis smash-and-grab!

Graphic: @ShedCreative