George Friend targeting automatic promotion with Middlesbrough as ‘outstanding’ youngster wins praise

Middlesbrough's George Friend takes on Aston Villa's Robert Snodgrass at Villa Park.
Middlesbrough's George Friend takes on Aston Villa's Robert Snodgrass at Villa Park.

George Friend is targeting automatic promotion with Middlesbrough next season and has praised the impact Tony Pulis has had on the Boro squad.

Friend is aiming to avoid the lottery of the Championship play-offs in 2018-19 after Boro were dumped out by Aston Villa.

Boro didn’t manage a single shot on target in the second leg, losing 1-0 on aggregate to Villa to leave the squad floored. But Friend insists Boro will be ready to go again when the new season kicks off in early August.

The left-back also praised Pulis for the togetherness he has instilled in the Boro camp since replacing Garry Monk at Christmas.

“Next season we are going to have to do it straight up, no play-offs, and get that final result that we want,” said Friend.

“There is a togetherness about this place and the manager really instils that in his squads and that is what he has done since he arrived.

“That combined with the spirit of Teesside will get us over the line, I’m sure. The fans were unbelievable, all season they have been like that.

“It has not been the best season for them to watch at times but we tried to finish strongly but we just couldn’t quite make it all the way.”

Boro’s lack of cutting edge was highlighted against Villa but Pulis had praise for his defenders and in particular 20-year-old Dael Fry.

Fry was drafted in after Daniel Ayala missed out with a knee injury.

“Fry coming in was fabulous,” said Pulis. “I’m just picking him out because he came in late for someone, in Ayala, that has been exceptional really.

“You wouldn’t have noticed the difference. Fry was outstanding.

“For us to put a young kid in, Ayala has been fantastic for us, but for him to come in and play the way he did was fantastic.”

Pulis has pledged to improve the squad but has insisted he won’t waste owner Steve Gibson’s money.

Pulis added: “I’m desperately disappointed but you pick yourself up and go again. The Championship is a tough league, a slog but we know what to expect and hopefully we get a team that is a little bit better again next season.”