MIDDLESBROUGH are off to Wembley and more importantly are one game away from returning to the Premier League.
Boro’s masterclass defeat of Brentford last night at a feverish Riverside added to their 2-1 triumph at Griffin Park a week earlier to seal their passage to the final of the Championship play-offs to play the winner of today’s Ipswich v Norwich game that is locked at 1-1.
Where Boro were slightly fortunate to hold an advantage after the first leg, their supremacy outclassed the Bees on Teesside.
Boro were utterly magnificent.
And it was all masterminded by Aitor Karanka’s on-point tactics of extinguishing the Bees’ attacking forays into hopeful saunters and his own side being clinical when presented with their chances.
Mark Warburton’s expectation was that Brentford, with just a one-goal deficit to bridge, would be in the ascendancy from the first whistle.
They verified their intent from kick-off, charging into Boro’s half before they were halted within four seconds.
Four seconds. That is all it took for Boro to take command.
Whenever Brentford attempted to engineer a goal-scoring move, Boro repressed them - thou shall not pass the human shields of Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton.
Continuing their first-leg’s robustness, Boro opted for crunching tackles and strong body-checks by way of stopping their opponents if Plan A was not sufficient.
Visibly riling the Bees, Boro’s players had already won the mental game.
The Wembley arch was a metaphorical touch closer on 23 minutes when Lee Tomlin caressed a fine finish into the top-corner of David Button’s net, a lead justifiably deserved.
Boro have only lost once all season when ahead and prior to this encounter they had kept 20 clean sheets when former Hartlepool United shot-stopper, Dimi Konstantopoulos, took position between the goalposts.
So Brentford’s mountain had just grown to an even greater elevation.
And it was a peak that they would not conquer.
Ten minutes after half-time, Boro’s lead on the night doubled.
The superb Tomlin dissected the Bees defence with a sweeping pass to locate Jelle Vossen. Vossen did well to marshall the ball inside the box before squaring to Kike who stepped away from Harlee Dean and slotted into the net.
Man of the match Albert Adomah, whose cutting inside was a perpetual problem for the visitors, curled a shot into the arms of Button, and Tomlin should have done better when he ran from the halfway line without reward, the trajectory of Vossen’s follow-up set too high.
The third did come, though, and it was conjured up in majestic fashion, a demonstration of footwork worthy of grandeur spectacles such as Wembley.
Tomlin and Vossen both interchanged with quick, one-touch passes and when Adomah came charging in from the right, he received the ball and replicated his team-mates’ actions to tee up his goal.
Leadbitter, though exalting Boro’s performance, was the same composed, undeterred individual afterwards as he is in the middle of the park.
“We need to get promoted to have a good season,” he said.
“It was a great performance by the lads. The pressure was on us to win and Brentford came here with nothing to lose.
“We outclassed Brentford and we were really good. It’s great.”
Six years of Premier League exile could about to be over. Now that would be great.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Whitehead, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Adomah, Leadbitter (Woodgate 90), Clayton, Tomlin (Forshaw 82), Vossen, Kike (Reach 68).
Subs Not Used: Ripley, Bamford, Nsue, Amorebieta.
Booked: Clayton, Whitehead, Kike
Goals: Tomlin 23, Kike 55, Adomah 78.
Brentford: Button, Odubajo, Dean, Tarkowski, Bidwell (Dallas 60), Diagouraga (Long 71), Douglas, Jota (Toral 60), Pritchard, Judge, Gray.
Subs Not Used: Craig, McCormack, Bonham, Smith.
Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).