Dimi is the Bees knees for Middlesbrough

HARTLEPOOL United fans knew it eight years ago and Middlesbrough supporters are learning about it now.

It is that Dimi Konstantopoulos plays a pivotal role in promotion campaigns.

The Boro keeper has been accustomed to quiet afternoons this season with Boro’s impermeable defence rarely needing the once-capped Greek stopper to spare their blushes.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Indeed, the Teessiders have recorded 17 clean sheets in all competitions this season, but that figure would have remained 16 had it not been for the agility of Konstantopoulos against Brentford on Saturday.

The Bees, fifth before the encounter and just a point behind Boro, demonstrated exactly why they are in the promotion mix and sullied the claims that their occupation of a play-off place is a fortunate fluke.

Mark Warburton’s side ran Boro ragged. They stretched them this way, then that way.

They gave the returning Ryan Fredericks a torrid opening 30 minutes, exploiting his rustiness down the left. Stuart Dallas’ pace and anticipation was much the greater.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The suspended Daniel Ayala was replaced by Kenneth Omeruo and the on-loan Chelsea ace struggled in the first period.

Jonathan Douglas, Alex Pritchard and Jota located pockets of space, darted around the Boro backline and supressed Boro deep into their own half.

This was rare territory for Boro who have become experts in dominating teams, home and away.

Get beyond the defence they did, but not past Dimi and the framework.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Gray spurned a free header after 10 minutes, meeting Pritchard’s chipped cross but heading well wide of the target.

The inventive Jota prompted a one-handed save from Konstantopoulos minutes after, the midfielder dropping away from his marker to shoot from 12 yards following a passed free-kick from Toumani Diagouraga that had its origins on the training field.

Dallas’ curling right-footed shot was palmed onto the post by Konstantopoulos before Douglas got between Omeruo and Fredericks to meet Jota’s threaded pass but the ball could only bounce off the number eight’s boot.

Douglas was prevented scoring the opener again, Dimi beating away his header.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Another well-executed set-piece for the hosts constituted a threat, James Tarkowski heading wide of the target under pressure from Omeruo.

Dimi’s saves and the hosts’ misses settled Boro as the game ticked past 30 minutes. The defence grew calmer, the excellent Ben Gibson organising, but they didn’t impose themselves on the London outfit.

The long balls forward to get into the annals and to counter attack were dealt with by Harlee Dean and Tarkowski. The visitors couldn’t lace a passing move together and the offside flag against them was a frequent sight.

Boro, unusually, were short on attacking ideas.

They were not, however, bereft of luck.

Gibson played a punt forward, Dean misread the bounce, Patrick Bamford collected the ball and ran round David Button to open up an open goal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But Button was too abrupt in diving at Bamford’s feet, conceding a penalty. Grant Leadbitter tucked away the spot-kick, the tenth time he has converted from 12 yards in eleven attempts.

Ahead, maybe, but Aitor Karanka undoubtedly unleashed a verbal tirade in the dressing room.

Boro were an improvement after the interval, Button diving low to turn away a Vossen header seconds after the restart.

But Brentford kept probing. Jota ran from the right into the centre and shot, forcing Konstantopoulos to save to his left.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dallas spun a half-volley from another well-worked corner narrowly over the crossbar.

The one-way traffic of the first-half gave way to an end-to-end second-half. Tomlin arced a pass between Jake Bidwell and Tarkowski, Bamford outpacing the duo but shooting straight at Button.

Vossen collected Bamford’s cross-switch pass and played through Albert Adomah who side-footed over the bar from ten yards. Leadbitter squandered a similar chance minutes after to double his and Boro’s tally.

Back came the Bees, Dallas, Gray and Douglas trying their fortune again. A goalmouth melee resulted in Tarkowski hitting against the side netting.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Dallas, in the last of the additional five minutes, cooly side-footed a shot towards goal that was blocked for a corner.

The ensuing corner found Douglas who spun and shot from six yards. Konstantopoulos was on the ground but he somehow, spectacularly, clawed Douglas’ shot away from the goal-line.

The full-time whistle was blown. Boro had achieved a huge victory, arguably the biggest of the season thus far. And they had Dimi to thank.