Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis reveals why he dropped Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher at Aston Villa

Middlesbrough's top scorer Britt Assombalonga started on the bench against Aston Villa.
Middlesbrough's top scorer Britt Assombalonga started on the bench against Aston Villa.

Tony Pulis hoped top scorer Britt Assombalonga could make an impact from the bench against Aston Villa - yet the game was already slipping away when Middlesbrough's top scorer entered the fray.

Boro lost their third league game in a row at Villa Park, after goals from Anwar El Ghazi, John McGinn and Albert Adomah condemned the Teessiders to a chastening 3-0 defeat.

It came after Pulis made a bold call to leave out Assombalonga, who has scored 12 times in all competitions this term, and Ashley Fletcher, who has netted three goals in his last five appearances.

The pair were introduced early in the second half, when Boro were 2-0, after Pulis opted to start with Jordan Hugill as a lone front man.

Following back-to-back home defeats against Brentford and Preston, Pulis felt it was best to freshen things up in the final third and explained his decision after the game.

"Those two (Assombalonga and Fletcher) have worked really hard in the previous games, their running stats have been really high," Pulis told BBC Tees.

"We were looking to bring them on in the last half hour and still be in the game, like we've done at Birmingham, West Brom and the other clubs, where we're bringing someone fresh on when the game is tight.

"Britt against Preston, that was the highest (running) stats he's done.

"I thought by bringing Jordan in, he could work hard, then we'd wait until the game opens up. You're hoping to play to your maximum and not give goals away like we did.

"We didn't get going at all. We didn't play anywhere near the way we can play, we didn't defend anywhere near the way we can defend."

Pulis also brought on Stewart Downing for Ryan Shotton in the 32nd minute, a decision the Boro boss said was tactical.

Downing hasn't started a game for Boro since Boxing Day due to a clause in his contract which triggers an extension if the winger starts one more game.

Even so, Pulis thought the 34-year-old freshened things up after coming on against Villa.

"It was only when Stewart come on I thought we looked a little bit better and fresher," added Pulis.

"It was tactical (to replace Shotton). I thought Stewart was the bright spark today."

When asked if there was any update regarding Downing's contract situation, Pulis added: "Like I say, that's something I'm not going to get involved in.

"That's something that Stewart and the club have got to sort out."