Middlesbrough's Jonny Howson opens up on difficult start and how criticism from fans helped him
Middlesbrough's Jonny Howson is enjoying a rich vein of form this season - but that hasn't always been the case since his move to the Riverside in 2017.
Howson, 30, joined Boro in July last year and was Garry Monk's first signing on Teesside after joining from Norwich.
Boro were huge favourites to win promotion back to the Premier League but, following a sluggish start to the campaign, Howson was one of the players who was singled out for criticism by some sections of supporters.
And the box-to-box midfielder has opened up about the difficulties he had to overcome this time last year, and how Tony Pulis helped him rediscover his form.
"I'm not on social media, so that was a blessing," Howson told The Football League Paper when asked about his difficult start at Boro.
"Of course I was aware of it (criticism), it's probably the first time in my career I've been singled out like that, and it is hard.
"When you care and you're frustrated and you want to put things right, you probably try a bit too hard. Daft as it sounds, that can go against you.
"You over concentrate, over-think things. You try to force a difficult ball instead of playing a simple pass. You're maybe wanting to make up for mistakes to prove a point. It isn't like when you're relaxed and free and everything flows.
"I look back on it now and I'd say it's probably helped me. It's made me tougher as a person. And I'm not complaining at all, by the way."
After impressive spells at Leeds and Norwich, Howson is the first to admit it when his performances drop below par.
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However, the criticism was tough to take when he first arrived at Boro.
"To be honest, I know when I'm not good enough and I'm experienced enough to take stick. Your biggest critic should always be yourself, and I am.
"The only thing that upset me - and this isn't something I've really spoken about before - was the way it affected my family. I'm paid to take stick but they aren't.
"My parents were up there in the stands. So were my wife and children. They're having to hear people shouting things about me. OK, it wasn't over the top, but it wasn't nice. It was hard knowing they were subjected to that."
Howson's performances did improve under Monk, and the midfielder scored Boro's equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday during a 2-1 win last December - Monk's final game in charge.
In came Pulis, with the Teessiders sitting ninth in the Championship, and Howson has gone from strength to strength ever since.
"He's been great - not just for me, but for all the lads," said the midfielder.
"He's said from day one, 'Give me everything you've got and I won't have any problems'. You can't be fairer than that.
"Day to day he's just very structured. He knows what he wants and how to achieve it. There are no grey areas, there's no confusion. You're never in two minds about what to do when you're on the pitch. He's clear in his demands and he's straight talking in the way he deals with people. That's all any player wants."