May 15th 2015. A Riverside Stadium packed to the rafters welcomes their Teesside heros to the pitch, a week after they saw their side clutch victory from the jaws of a stalemate thanks to the left boot of Fernando Amorebieta.
As Pigbag rings out from the tannoy system, all 30,000+ Middlesbrough fans clap in unison, singing and chanting. It’s an atmosphere like which the North East hasn’t seen since Steua Bucharest arrived in 2006.
The noise in the stadium is cranked up at Lee Tomlin slots home a 23rd minute stike and the Boro players keep up the intersity for the remaining 67. Middlesbrough are off to Wembley.
For years to come, games against Brentford will always remind Boro fans of the 2014/15 campaign and, more specifically, the play-off semi-final.
Even though a lot of time has past since the post-season showdown, fans who witnessed the game – be that on TV, through the radio or being at the Riverside in person – still remember the game fondly. Certainly more so than the next round…
There has been lots of changes for both sides since the final whistle sounded almost four years ago. Today we’ll assess just how much the Boro squad has changed, specifically looking at where are the players from that match now.
Goalkeeper – Dimi Konstantopolous – Current club: Middlesbrough
Looking back at it, the story of Dimi’s time at Boro is an odd one. A goalkeeper who was ‘getting on up there’ in age arrived on a short-term deal and, after some tutelage by Shay Given, emerged as one of the best ‘keepers in the league.
After the two legs against Brentford and two goals conceded at Wembley, Dimi returned as the starting ‘keeper for Middlesbrough’s 15/16 promotion winning season. The Greek stopper kept 22 clean sheets in the 48 league matches enroute to a second place finish in the Championship.
Dimi was replaced by much-accomplished goalkeeper Victor Valdes during the summer window and pushed even further down the pecking order by the arrival of Brad Guzan. He became the team’s oldest ever player in a recent FA Cup tie against Peterborough at the age of 40 years and 37 days.
RB – Dean Whitehead – Current club: Huddersfield Town (Coach)
Aitor Karanka made the rather bold and conservative move on utilising the former Stoke City and Sunderland midfielder as a fullback during Boro’s play-off campaign. Whitehead played 18 times in the season and was a bit-part player, usually deputising for one of the central midfielders should they succumb to injury or suspension.
Whitehead would leave Middlesbrough after the season and eventually earned promotion to the Premier League two years later with Huddersfield Town. After retiring at the start of the 2018/19, Whitehead joined the Terriers’ coaching staff and recently returned to Rockliffe Park to witness his Under 23 side lose 3-0 to Boro.
CB – Daniel Ayala – Current club: Middlesbrough
Since arriving on Teesside on an emergency loan before Karanka took over in 2013, Ayala has – when available – been a mainstay in the Boro side. No matter the manager, formation or opponent, Ayala has been a great servant to Middlesbrough, even though he can be hot headed and make rash decisions.
Ayala has netted 16 times in 144 appearences for the Reds and was, this year, described by Tony Pulis as the best defender in the division. The spaniard looks set to make his 27th appearance of the year against Brenford on Saturday.
CB – Ben Gibson – Current club: Burnley
Nunthorpe Nesta, Pallister Park Puyol, Boro’s Baresi. How ever you want to word it, Ben Gibson was arguably Middlesbrough’s best player every year for the last four seasons (with the possible exceptions of 14/15 Patrick Bamford and 2018 Adama Traore)
The born and bread Teessider could have left Middlesbrough for greener pasturers many times, before leaving for Burnley in July 2018. He may even still be at the club had finances not dictated otherwise. Gibson has made a total of five appearances for the Clarets this term with just one coming in the league.
LB – George Friend – Current club: Middlesbrough
If a discussion is to be had about bargain signings made by Middlebrough over the past decade, Geroge Friend’s name has to be in that conversation. Plucked from Doncaster Rovers for £100,000, Friend has been Middlesbrough’s starting left back for six years -save around six months where Fabio da Silva was favoured under Garry Monk.
It can be argued that he has lost a yard of pace and he would benefit from some competition in his spot, Friend – like the previous two players – has been a great player to have amongst the ranks on Teesside. The team’s captain is currently out injured due to a knock picked up against Blackburn Rovers and won’t be risked this weekend.
CM – Grant Leadbitter – Current club: Sunderland
Another name worthy of throwing into the afor mentioned bargain signing converstion is another man brought to the club by Tony Mowbray. Leadbitter arrived on Teesside on a free transfer from Ipswich Town 2011 and the Mackem took the captains armband from Rhys Williams two years later. The former Sunderland midfield general became the club’s captain following Jonathan Woodgate’s retirement in 2015.
During the 2019 January Window, 212 appearances and 28 goals after signing for Boro, Leadbitter returned to his home town club on the banks of the river Wear.
(Fun fact: Grant Leadbitter has scored twice at Old Trafford for Boro – once in a 2015 penalty shootout and once in a 2-1 loss in 2017 – the same amount as Alexis Sanchez has for Manchester United and Arsenal.)
CM – Adam Clayton – Current club: Middlesbrough
Bought from Huddersfield for £2.5 million in 2014, Clayton formed the spine of what woul become the Championship’s best defence over the coming seasons.
Despite being a regular fixture during most of his time on Teesside, Clayton has only netted once for Middlesbrough. The goal cam against his former team in a 2-0 win in 2015. Clayton will, most likely, be on the bench for Boro this weekend after John Obi Mikel displaced him from the starting line up after the Nigerian’s January arrival.
RM – Albert Adomah – Current club: Aston Villa
Adomah was a £1 million purchase for, you guessed it, Mowbray. The fee was a large one by the standard set during Mowbray’s time in charge of Middlesbrough. The Ghanian, however, repaid every penny of the fee as he scored 12 times during his debut season at the Riverside.
The former Bristol City winger helped Boro to the Premier League with his goals and assists from the right flank – namely his assist for David Nugent’s goal against Hull City in 2016.) Despite being linked with a move back to Middlesbrough this term, Adomah remains with Aston Villa.
LM – Lee Tomlin – Current Club: Peterborough United
When Tomlin arrived on Teesside, many eyebrows were raised. He was a signing announced minutes after transfer deadline day in 2014 and fans were bemused as to why he’d been brought into the side.
On his day, he was a great player for Boro, with the ability to pick a pass and turn a defender. Arguably his most memorable moment in the red of Middlesbrough was to turn Premier League winning defender Vincet Kompany inside out and hit the post in a 2-0 FA Cup win over Manchester City. Tomlin also opened the scoring in this semi-final second leng.
Tomlin left Middlesbrough in 2015 for Bournemouth and has since has stints at Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest before returning to Peterborough United, where he scored on his second debut.
CF – Jelle Vossen – Current club: Club Brugge
If you were to look up ‘social media firestorm’ in a dictionary, then you would likely see a reference to #FreeJelleVossen. Middlesbrough fans were so set on getting KRC Genk to let their Belgian forward join their Teesside team, that their efforts got them onto the news in Belgium.
When he eventually arrived into English football, Vossen struggled to hit the ground running. It took him until December 3rd to score his first Middlesbrough goal, and he added two more in the same match against Millwall at The Den.
It was Vossen who openeing the scoring in the first leg as he headed home a free-kick to give Middlesbrough a one goal advantage.
ST – Kike Garcia – Current Club: SD Eibar
Ole, ole, ole. Following his arrival from Real Murcia in 2014, as Aitor Karanka started to put his stamp on Middlesbrough football club, Kike quickly became a fan favourite partly through scoring goals and partly becuase of his catchy song.
To many it felt as if Kike did not reach his full potential with Middlesbrough (much like Cristhian Stuani) and he left Teesside in 2015 after scoring 15 goals in 53 games in England. His goal against Brentford on May 15th and subsequent shirtless celebration is one of the long lasting memories from the match. Kike now plays for Eibar in La Liga and has scored 18 times for them.