Alex Pritchard and Ryan Fredericks have enjoyed hugely-successful loans with Brentford and Middlesbrough respectively.
Flying full-back Ryan made 19 appearances to help Boro into fourth place in the final standings while attacking midfielder Alex has swept all before him in an incredible season for the Bees, who defied all odds to finish fifth.
'Pritch' scored in a nail-biting final weekend of the season as Brentford beat Wigan and saw Derby and Ipswich both lose to leapfrog from seventh to fifth. That was his 12th goal in 45 appearances (also seven assists) and his performances have seen him named in the PFA Team of the Year, pick up Brentford's Players' Player of the Year and a number of supporters' awards at the club (Irish, Norwegian, Italian).
How do they feel going into tonight's (7.45pm) play-off semi-final, first leg at Griffin Park? We spoke to both of them...
What is the feeling going into the play-offs and how do you think it will go over the two-leg format?
Alex: “We’re confident on the back of a 3-0 win at home against Wigan on the last day, that was key for us, especially to keep two clean sheets on the bounce as well. We know we now face a very good Middlesbrough side. I’m looking forward to it, can’t wait. We’ve played Middlesbrough twice and lost both times, so we’ll learn from that. At home, on our day, no-one can touch us but we lost 4-0 up there earlier in the season, so we’ll also be aware of that. It’s a clean slate now though.”
Ryan: “We’ve had a great season, beaten some good teams and we’re confident we can go out and win over two legs. We beat all the teams in the play-offs, we beat Norwich twice, Brentford twice, beat Ipswich so we’re confident about it. I can’t imagine they will be cagey matches, it’s not how the teams play. It will come down to who plays well on the day. It’s a huge occasion.”
Below: Ryan in action for Middlesbrough against Fulham
What have you made of Middlesbrough this season?
Alex: “They’ve been great all season and have the likes of Patrick Bamford, Tomlin, they were always going to there or thereabouts. They don’t concede a lot of goals and hopefully that will change going into these play-off games. They are a tough team, solid.”
What have you made of Brentford this season?
Ryan: “The first time we played them was my debut and we beat them well, 4-0. I thought that day they might struggle but after that, they didn’t lose for about 15 matches and they were right behind us. Then, when we played them away, they were excellent, one of the best teams we’ve played all season. We just defended well, scored and nicked a 1-0 win. They’ve got some good individual players as well, like Pritch, of course…”
Tell us about Ryan Fredericks.
Alex: “He’s a very good friend. We’ve played together for a long time at Spurs and he has great attributes, very quick, great on the ball, improving defensively as well. He’s frightening on the counter-attack with that pace.”
Tell us about Alex Pritchard.
Ryan: “I’ve known him since I was about 12 and yes, he’s alright! We all know what he’s about, great technically, quick feet, goals in him. We just have to keep him quiet over the two matches. If we give him space, he can do some damage. He’s been great for Brentford and deserved to get into the PFA’s Team of the Year for the Championship, congratulations mate!”
Below: Pritch on target for Brentford against Huddersfield
What would it mean to get to Wembley?
Alex: “It would be a proud moment but it would be brilliant for the club to get there and win it. I’ve made a lot of friends at this club and I would just love to get there and get promotion for them, really. It’s a massive two games against Middlesbrough – and hopefully another after that. To walk out at Wembley would be great but we’ve a long way to go yet. The season starts now in many ways.”
Ryan: “It would mean a lot but it’s not just about playing at Wembley, it’s all about getting into the Premier League for Middlesbrough. That’s what we want.”
How would you sum-up your loan at Brentford?
Alex: “Incredible, to be honest. Amazing. To go from being tipped for relegation at the start of the season, we’ve stuck together through thick and thin and finished fifth. We’ve had bad days as well. We could have gone top at Christmas but then found ourselves 3-0 down at Ipswich. We’ve managed to come back from days like that and prove people wrong. We’ve been written off so many times, but here we are.”
How would you sum-up your loan spell at Middlesbrough?
Ryan: “It’s been really positive. I picked up a couple of niggling injuries in the middle of the season which were annoying and hit my momentum a little. I played well in big cup games against Liverpool and Arsenal, they were great experiences and I feel I’ve improved as a player and that’s obviously the main thing. I’m really happy with the season.”