Dean Whitehead reflects on biggest disappointment of his playing career - and it came at Boro
Dean Whitehead enjoyed an incredibly fruitful career, spanning almost two decades and accumulating 622 appearances along the way.
With that there’s many a high and many a low, but his two years at Middlesbrough ended with what he feels the biggest disappointment of his playing days.
In an exclusive interview with us, the former Boro midfielder reflected on a ‘disaster’ of a day in the 2015 play-off final, and a game that turned out to be his last for a club.
“It’s probably the most disappointing part of my career if I’m honest,” he said.
“We had such a good team and we threw away [automatic] promotion in the final season.
“We had a good day at Manchester City at the Ethiad where Tommo [Lee Tomlin] ran riot a little bit.
“Obviously beating Brentford over two legs was good but it meant nothing so it was disappointing really.”
That victory over Brentford set up a play-off final date against Norwich, but a trip that could well have made dreams a reality very quickly turned into a nightmare for Boro
“It was an absolute disaster from probably 12 o’clock onwards,” Whitehead recalls.
“We stayed at The Grove which is over an hour away from the ground. I’m sure all the staff did their due diligence in terms of getting police escorts and all that sort of stuff to the stadium, but as we got closer to the ground it was a complete standstill, we can’t go anywhere.
“The players keep looking at their watch, the manager’s not happy, the driver’s trying to do this and that but he can’t move anywhere.
“Leo [Percovich] gets out of the coach and tries to shuffle cars around. It was a disaster.”
Boro’s lengthy waiting game on the journey to Wembley threw all pre-match preparation up in the air, and the frantic rush that followed spilled into a tough start on the pitch.
“We got into the ground really late, there was no time to have a look at the pitch, take in the surroundings and get yourself familiar with what’s about to happen: one of the biggest games in Championship history.
“We’re strolling up, struggling for time to get prepared - everything you need to do. Each individual has their own way they like to prepare for games. We had it in a really short space of time that we had to turn things around and get out and warm up.
“It was all a bit of a disaster and in the first 20 minutes of the game it might’ve been a knock-on effect.
“We had make excuses all we want but the first 20 minutes was probably justified from the last two hours maybe.”
It was an afternoon particularly disheartening for Whitehead, who was playing in his final game for the club.
“It was disappointing. A disappointing day and a disappointing end to a season where, to be honest, we should’ve been in the top two anyway, we were one of the best two sides in the league all season and we’ve only got ourselves to blame for that.
“That being my last game was probably one of the most disappointing, arguable the disappointment of my career really.”