Mark Warburton hopes that his Brentford reign will last for one more match. His team need to overturn a 2-1 deficit at Middlesbrough tonight to reach the Championship play-off final on 25 May to face Norwich or Ipswich for a place in next season’s Premier League.
If Brentford were to reach the final it would be a fine achievement. If they were to be promoted it would be even greater. And yet, whatever happens at the climax of this season, Warburton will not be there to see in the next one.
It is certainly a strange situation at Griffin Park, the result of a fundamental disagreement between Warburton and Brentford owner Matthew Benham over who should be in charge of coaching, recruitment and selection in future. Warburton did not agree with Benham, so this summer Benham will find a new manager who does.
Warburton has not allowed himself one public display of anger, though, and on the eve of tonight’s second leg, with his team a goal down to a stronger side, he was not about to start. “It’s a strange situation, a fairly unique situation,” he said with some understatement. “But it is what it is. All me and [assistant manager] David Weir can do is get on with it.”
That is what the Brentford staff and players have been trying to do ever since it emerged in February that the disagreements between Warburton and Benham were too profound for the same structure to survive into next season. Results did dip but a new unity has emerged since, with the squad now keen to see Warburton off in style.
“Ever since the news came out the boys have come together a little bit more,” said James Tarkowski this week, “and hopefully we can give the gaffer a good send-off with promotion to the Premier League.”
That is precisely what Warburton hopes for as well. He says that he “would not wish the club ill” and it is natural to believe him. If he does reach the final – or even win it – he can effectively pick his next Championship job, and if there is a vacancy at Derby County or Queen’s Park Rangers this summer Warburton would naturally be a very strong candidate.
Standing in Brentford’s way tonight, and likelier to go through, are Middlesbrough. They are a very different story, not a rapid rise through the leagues but a sleeping giant which owner Steve Gibson has finally been able to conjure back onto their feet. There have been a few false starts since the club was relegated under Gareth Southgate in 2009 but in Aitor Karanka, formerly Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid, they have found the right man.
All season, Boro have played with discipline, power and organisation, the products of Karanka’s relentless focus and attention to detail. They were the most consistent team at the top of the Championship for most of the season until they were blown away by the goalscoring power of Watford and Bournemouth over the final stretch.
Yet the 2-1 win at Griffin Park last Friday showed that Boro have a tenacity and resolve many other sides do not possess and it would be a surprise if they were not at Wembley on Bank Holiday Monday.
While Warburton’s team are all about expansive, attractive football, Karanka has learned from Mourinho the art of canny, strategic counter-attacking. Even back at the Riverside tonight they could soak up pressure in their defensive shape and then hit Brentford with the pace of Patrick Bamford, who is carrying an ankle injury, and Albert Adomah. If they can keep Brentford out, Warburton will not make it to Wembley this time.Reuse content