JELLE VOSSEN admits that the pre-match words of Brentford defender Harlee Dean served as the perfect motivational tool in Middlesbrough’s Wembley quest.
Ahead of Friday’s Championship play-off semi-final second leg at the Riverside Stadium, Dean – in comments which will come back to haunt him – spoke in far from flattering terms about the merits of Boro, labelling them as a side wholly reliant on set pieces and counter-attack following the Teessiders’ 2-1 victory in the first instalment at Griffin Park.
Bees keeper David Button also spoke about the perceived excessiveness of Boro’s celebrations at the final whistle in West London following sub Fernando Amorebieta’s late winner and how it stuck in the craw of he and his team-mates.
But he and Bees players could find no answers to the polished Teessiders in the second leg, with Boro’s success being richly deserved.
Belgian forward Vossen, who provided an inadvertent assist for Boro’s second goal in Friday’s 3-0 victory over the Bees, says the comments of particularly Dean were taken on board by him and his team-mates – and utilised to their advantage.
It was a night when Boro scored three impressive goals from open play en route to their fourth victory of the campaign against the Bees, with Aitor Karanka’s side now pitted in a play-off final against Norwich City a week today – with the prize at stake in the richest game in domestic football being the Premier League.
On a handsome victory for Boro, who will step out at Wembley for the first time in 17 years next week, Vossen said: “At 3-0, no-one can say anything negative about our performance.
“We knew what they said about our game and our attitude. But the best reaction was to show on the pitch what we are capable of and I think we did that very well.
“We have beaten them four times this season and it is well deserved. Everybody at this club deserved to go to Wembley.”
On a richly-rewarding night for the Teessiders, he added: “I think everyone expected a great night for the Boro and we did our jobs.
“It was a fantastic atmosphere and it was a good game and great result and everyone is looking forward to Wembley.
“We were well organised and came out at the right moments. The first goal was very important and they then had to come onto us and we took advantage of the space and the victory was well deserved.
“We knew that they had to take some risks and everyone stayed really calm and we chose the right moments to hurt them and we had enough quality to do that.
“It was a big night for the whole town and we felt that everybody was totally behind us and that gave us extra motivation and extra support when you heard the crowd. It was just amazing and hopefully we can have the same atmosphere at Wembley.
“We need Middlesbrough to stay behind us.”
Boro head into the final in the knowledge that, like against Brentford, they recorded a seasonal double over the Canaries.
But Vossen is savvy enough to realise that counts for nothing ahead of next Monday’s encounter in the self-styled ‘richest game in English football’.
Providing a note of caution amid the fabulous scenes at the end of Boro’s encounter on Friday, with a huge task still lying ahead if Boro are to end their six-year absence from the big time, Vossen added: “We don’t have anything yet.
“Friday was a very nice and a big step. But there’s still one game to play and maybe it will be the only chance for some players to get in the Premier League.
“Personally, as a Belgian, it is my ambition to be one of the players who are playing in the Premier League and we are only 90 minutes away from that goal,” he said.
“It is going to be a game where we can win or lose everything in 90 or 120 minutes. It will be a big game, but we have the right team and staff to keep our feet on the ground.
“I have been at Wembley with the national team, but didn’t come off the bench.
“But it is a great opportunity to have a nice experience, but the first thing that has to be done is to win the game.”
Meanwhile, Karanka says he’ll leave it up to Jonathan Woodgate to decide whether or not he’s got a Boro future.
The club captain made what could be his final appearance at a packed-out Riverside on Friday night when he was brought on as a stoppage-time sub against Brentford.
The move was clearly a gesture from Karanka aimed at making sure the home supporters had an opportunity to acknowledge Woodgate’s contribution to Boro in his two spells with his hometown club.
The 35-year-old’s current deal expires in the summer and he will be a free agent, with the former Leeds United stopper having started his coaching badges, with it unclear if he will end his playing career.
Karanka said: “I thought that he deserved to finish the season on the pitch playing because he’s an idol here, the crowd love him, and he loves this club.
“Now we have to speak and once again I am going to do what Woody wants because he’s the captain, he’s a legend here, he’s the spirit of the team, so he’s the best.”
Adamant that his players deserve the stage of the Premier League after their feats this term and what the top-flight will mean for Boro, the Basque added: “The first thing is the money, but these players deserve to play in the Premier League.
“It’s the biggest step for everybody. We have to prepare for that final game and do the best.
“I have to thank my players because they showed everybody they are an amazing team with amazing spirit.”