MIDDLESBROUGH head coach Aitor Karanka is refusing to indulge in any mind games ahead of tonight’s pivotal second-leg clash with Brentford.
Boro start off with a slender 2-1 advantage from the first leg at Griffin Park seven days ago, courtesy of a last-gasp strike from Fernando Amorebieta.
Bees goalkeeper David Button said after the game that the scenes of celebration following that dramatic strike and at the final whistle from Boro players and staff will serve as a team-talk for the visitors ahead of the second instalment at the Riverside Stadium.
Meanwhile, big defender Harlee Dean has fired a further withering broadside in the direction of Boro by labelling them as a set-piece and counter-attacking team who have precious few other offensive qualities.
The comments have added spice to the pot ahead of tonight’s encounter on Teesside, where the Bees went down 4-0 in the regular season.
But Karanka is keeping his focus and refusing to get side-tracked.
It is maybe a wise philosophy and while the Teessiders are in the box seat against the Bees, a side they have beaten in all three previous encounters this term, the Basque head coach and the Boro faithful are entitled to draw upon a spot of history as a warning.
In Boro’s first foray in the play-offs in 1987-88, they were on the receiving end of three successive regular season defeats against Bradford City, but they promptly won the fourth and final instalment at the old Ayresome Park to end the Bantams season en route to promotion to the top-flight.
Karanka said: “I said after the first game that we have done nothing. We have to go to the pitch thinking it will be a difficult game. They are a very good team and we have to be focused from the first minute.
“In this kind of game, anything can happen. We could score, they could score, we are one goal up but we have to play as though the score is 0-0. I don’t know how to arrange a draw, we have to go to the pitch thinking that we have to win the game.”
On the comments of Dean, he added: “That’s his point of view, I have to respect that.
“If we are winning the games it is because this team has an amazing spirit.
“If he thinks that we score from counter-attacks and set pieces, I prefer to say that the team is in this position because they have a great spirit and they are very good lads.
“I’ve said so many times there were a lot of squads better than ours, but we have the best team. They are friends and they support each other.
“Maybe they (Brentford) don’t know that spirit. If he thinks that, I have to respect it.”
Defender Jonathan Woodgate could return to the squad after being out with a hamstring injury since April 14.
Leading scorer Patrick Bamford is expected to be fit after playing through the pain barrier with an ankle problem in recent weeks.
Brentford may be the underdogs to reach the final but manager Mark Warburton, who is leaving at the end of the season regardless of whether the Bees are promoted, admits he cannot help but dream of saying farewell by leading them out at Wembley as he drives past the national stadium every day.
Warburton, who has been linked with Leeds United in the past few days, said: “Every morning, I leave home at 5am and drive on the A406 over the bridge, past Brent Cross, and see Wembley Stadium.
“It hammers home the point to you. It’s a magnificent venue. I was there last year watching Derby and QPR and you see the intensity.
“It’s Premier League status. It’s a huge amount of money for the club.
“It gives them a global shop window – but every club, Boro, Norwich and Ipswich, have the same message.”