Tony Pulis only arrived at the Riverside on Boxing Day but after just one game in charge, Middlesbrough fans already have a pretty good idea of what to expect from their new manager.
Saturday was a frustrating day for Pulis, who became Boro’s fourth permanent manager of 2017, as he watched his side lose 1-0 to Aston Villa at the Riverside courtesy of Robert Snodgrass’ 75th-minute header.
Yet, there were plenty of signs that the Pulis message is already getting through, and Boro weren’t afraid to go direct to their powerful attacking duo of Rudy Gestede and Britt Assombalonga.
Another noticeable alteration was the inclusion of Ryan Shotton, who played under Pulis at Stoke, at right-back, with Boro regularly looking to exploit the defender’s long throw ins.
Only time will tell if Pulis’ style, which is visibly different to the one which his predecessor Garry Monk was trying to implement, will produce the results that Boro need to make the play-offs.
Pulis, who guided Stoke to promotion from the second tier in the 2007/08 season, will know there’s not much time for his players to adapt, though, and that his new side can’t afford many more slip ups against their promotion rivals.
Villa moved ahead of the Teessiders following this victory, in a game which saw few goalscoring opportunities.
It’s a result which leaves Pulis’ men three points off a play-off spot and 10 adrift of the automatic places.
In the first half, it was Boro who created the better chances but lacked the desired quality in the final third.
Neither goalkeeper was really troubled in the opening 45 minutes, though Boro’s Darren Randolph had to be alert when Ben Gibson gave away possession and former team-mate Albert Adomah almost punished the error.
Jonny Howson then went close for the hosts, but his scuffed volley from Gestede’s knockdown lacked the power required to beat Sam Johnstone.
Pulis wasn’t afraid to make substitutions early in the second half, as on came Adama Traore for Martin Braithwaite in the 57th minute.
The unpredictable winger certainly made an impact, and his blistering pace caused Villa plenty of problems.
Even so, the hosts switched off 15 minutes from time and the mistake proved fatal.
Adomah was allowed too much time to cross the ball from the left and the unmarked Snodgrass steered the ball home at the back post.