Tony Pulis' positive effect at Middlesbrough
Since joining up with Middlesbrough, new boss Tony Pulis had made an impact. The club was in ninth place following Garry Monk's departure. With Pulis in charge, everything looks to be heading towards success.
Now sixth and level on points with Derby County, Boro are on a five-game unbeaten run. The Championship is no easy competition. Pulis nonetheless has his side level-headed and pushing into the playoff places. Four wins and a draw have curried optimism in the squad. Away results such as a 1-0 win against Birmingham and a rough but ultimately fruitful 3-3 draw against Sunderland have had positive effects. The most recent result was the 3-1 win over Barnsley at the Riverside. Daniel Ayala, Adama Traore and Patrick Bamford powered Boro.
Middlesbrough is a big club, not on the order of Manchester United or Arsenal, but still on the large side. The Riverside seats 34,000. Its fans expected nothing less than a bid for an immediate Premier League return. Easier said than done, true. Relegation means releasing top players whose wages no longer fit the budget. Gaston Ramirez, Jordan Rhodes, Marten De Roon, and Adlene Guedioura moved on, among others.
The club has also closed some sections for the Championship season. It now draws roughly 20,000 fans per game. Lost revenue only makes the task more difficult.
That said, the club has shown its intent, winning nearly half its games under Monk and Pulis combined. The Teessiders are three points beyond Bristol City in seventh. Preston, Sheffield United, and Millwall are all within six points. Nine games remain. Every result is critical. It would help Boro to push beyond Derby into fifth.
Patrick Bamford and Britt Assombalonga have been vital to Middlesbrough's attack. The duo have combined for 20 goals. goals are coming from other sources, too. Fourteen players have scored for Boro, including five defenders.
The next fixture is away to Brentford. The Bees are 11th and aren't doing badly despite a recent defeat to Millwall. Dean Smith's side won't have it easy when Pulis and Boro arrive at Griffin Park. The Welshman will either opt for a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 depending on what he expects from his opposite number. Brentford have consistently stuck with the 4-2-3-1. Will Pulis mirror Smith or risk being outnumbered in the midfield to press higher up the pitch?
If there is an area Pulis can improve, it's defence. Given his reputation, that is likely why he was hired. So far, though, Boro's success has come in attack. In their last five games, 13 goals have been struck, six conceded. It's almost like the Teessiders hired Jurgen Klopp. Goal by committee proves the Welshman is still focused on team play. He is exploiting the talents his squad possess. Instilling more defensive responsibility will take time and, one would expect, a summer purchase or two. The question is whether those signings will be made with Premier League or Championship play in mind. That is still very much up in the air.