Tony Pulis has urged his Middlesbrough players to embrace the challenge of trying to secure a spot in the Championship play-offs following Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Bristol City, writes Joe Nicholson.
After Milan Djuric’s 13th minute opener, Boro came from behind to win for just the second time under Pulis courtesy of goals from George Friend and Daniel Ayala.
The result moved Boro up to fifth with three games to go, but, with matches against promotion rivals Derby and Millwall to come, there is still plenty to play for.
“We’ve spoken about it, not getting uptight and that’s what the players have to do embrace the challenge,” said Pulis.
“They’re fortunate lads, these are great games to play in and manage and that’s the attitude they must have, roll your sleeves up, puff your chest out and work your socks off when you don’t have the ball. We did that (on Saturday).”
Pulis was also able to share a joke with Patrick Bamford, after the Boro striker suffered a concerning injury which left him flat on the floor for about nine minutes in the first half.
Bamford was stretchered off and taken to hospital as a precautionary measure but was back in the dressing room celebrating with his teammates after the game.
“He went down either winded or he’s hit his head but he’s fine. I’ve not spoken to him or the physios, I’ve just hammered him for being soft. Only joking. I have hammered him though,” said Pulis.
The Boro boss was critical of his side’s first-half performance at Sheffield United in midweek, but made just one change, with the suspended Grant Leadbitter making way for Adam Clayton.
Even so, the hosts fell behind with just 13 minutes gone, when Bobby Reid’s cross bounced invitingly on the edge of Boro’s box, allowing Marlon Pack to head the ball towards goal.
Inside the area, Djuric reacted the quickest, muscling past both Friend and Ayala before stabbing the ball past Darren Randolph.
Boro levelled from a corner five minutes later, when Friend shrugged off his marker before glancing a header past Frank Fielding.
That sparked the home crowd into life, but the mood soon turned to concern after Bamford was left flat on the floor following a challenge with Aden Flint. The incident resulted in 11 minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half.
Even so, Boro showed renewed energy and confidence on the restart.
Traore looked their best route to goal all game, and the winger’s corner on 68 minutes allowed Ayala to head home the winner.
City manager Lee Johnson said: “We’ve conceded two poor goals, we talked about being good in flow, but also in the clutch phase dealing with corners, set-pieces but that’s where we failed.”
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Howson, Clayton, Besic, Traore (Cranie 90), Bamford (Assombalonga 34), Downing (Da Silva 88). Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Fry, Harrison, Baker. Booked: Besic, Friend, Clayton, Randolph. Goals: Friend 18, Ayala 68
Bristol City: Fielding, Bryan, Flint, Baker, Kelly (O’Dowda 67), Brownhill, Pack, Smith, Reid, Djuric (Pisano 46), Diedhiou (Taylor 67). Subs not used: Steele, Eliasson, Magnusson, O’Neil. Booked: Reid, Pack. Goal: Djuric 13
Att: 24,812. Ref: Andrew Madley (W Yorkshire).