Five things Tony Pulis MUST do for Middlesbrough to win promotion from the Championship
Middlesbrough's promotion challenge has stuttered in recent weeks - so what must manager Tony Pulis do to get their season back on track?
The Teessiders have won just one of their last four league games and slipped to fourth in the Championship following last weekend's defeat by Nottingham Forest.
Here are five things we believe the Boro boss must do to win promotion from the second tier.
Keep the fans on side
Last Saturday’s 2-0 defeat by Forest was Boro’s first at the Riverside this campaign, as Pulis’ men missed the chance to go top of the table.
The Teessiders have scored just seven goals at home this season, and never looked like coming back after Lewis Grabban added a second 13 minutes from time.
Boro have netted just seven goals at home this season, three of which came in the victory over Sheffield United in August.
Blackburn are the only team in the top half of the Championship who have scored less goals in front of their own supporters.
And if results don’t come, fans may quickly become frustrated with their manager’s style of play.
Utilize the squad
Pulis named an unchanged side against Forest, following Boro’s 2-0 victory at Ipswich earlier that week.
The Boro boss left holding midfielder Adam Clayton, who has been immense this season but was suspended at Portman Road, on the bench - instead deploying the more attack-minded George Saville in front of the back four.
Clayton joined Danny Batth, Paddy McNair, Britt Assombalonga and Rudy Gestede on Boro’s bench - all players with a wealth of Championship experience.
McNair, a Â£5million signing from Sunderland in the summer, has barely featured in the league this campaign, and the same can be said about Grant Leadbitter, who has been one of the club’s key players in recent years.
Pulis must therefore find a way of keeping all his players happy, while also integrating the club’s promising academy prospects, such as Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier, who started the season well.
Find a number one striker
Assombalonga is Boro’s top scorer this season with four league goals this campaign, but has started Boro’s last two games on the bench.
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Jordan Hugill has been preferred up front but has also struggled to impress, following his loan move from West Ham.
Boro have scored just 14 goals in the Championship this term - only Swansea have scored less in the top half of the division.
Pulis' side must, therefore, find a regular goalscorer up top or find a way to take the pressure off their lone frontman.
Kill teams off when they have the chance
Pulis has regularly admitted his side haven't been clinical enough in front of goal this campaign.
In most games this season, Boro have started well, storming into a first-half lead before sitting back to defend their advantage after half-time.
On four occasions in the league, Boro have won 1-0 or 2-0 after scoring in the first half - against Birmingham, Bristol City, Bolton and Ipswich.
In all those games Pulis’ men had chances to put the game out of sight, before losing momentum and allowing their opponents to get back in the contest.
Against better opponents, Pulis’ men could have been punished.
Boro must therefore try to finish games how they start them and stay on the front foot after taking the lead.
Add more width in January
It was no secret that Pulis was on the hunt for another winger in the summer, but bids to sign Yannick Bolasie and Albert Adomah stalled.
To compensate, Pulis deployed a 3-5-2 system in the first few games, with Ryan Shotton and George Friend operating as wing-backs.
However, it is clear the Boro boss prefers to play a back four, like he did last season.
The problem is, Stewart Downing appears to be the only winger Pulis trusts, and the Welshman has deployed striker Martin Braithwaite on the opposite flank.
Another natural winger would allow Boro to penetrate opponents much better, especially teams which defend in numbers away from home.