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Tony Pulis puts focus on Middlesbrough ahead of Aston Villa tie

Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis
Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis

Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis has praised play-off opponents Aston Villa - but has insisted his focus remains on his own side.

The Teessiders welcome the Villans to the Riverside Stadium tonight (kick-off 5:15pm) in the first leg of the Championship play-offs.

And while Pulis believes the tie will pit his side against one of the best squads in the league, he is keen not to focus too much on the threats posed by Steve Bruce's men.

An immediate return to the Premier League is the ultimate goal for Boro, with Pulis believing that vocal backing at the Riverside could help in setting Middlesbrough on their way.

Boro failed to beat Villa in their two league meetings this season - although they did claim a victory in the Carabao Cup - and Pulis is well aware of the strength in depth available at Villa Park.

But despite the Midlanders obvious strengths, the Middlesbrough boss is keen to focus on his own team and the confidence that has grown in recent weeks.

“There’s only one team I’m worried about and that’s us," he said, speaking to mfc.co.uk.

“Aston Villa are a wonderful football club and I’ve got great respect for Steve [Bruce] and the coaching team there.

“As I’ve stated, he’s got one of if not the strongest squad in the Championship. He has options to change players and rest players that are top players at this level, so we expect it to be a tough, tough game.

“But with a minute to go [at Ipswich] I didn’t know the other scores - I’m not one to worry about what’s going on with other clubs.

"We’ve got to a point where we have to focus on ourselves. We come into this competition on the back of a great run of results and full of confidence.

“We have to be positive, the important thing is we’re focused and we understand the challenge ahead. If we want to get to the final, and we want to get to the Premier League we’ve got to make sure we approach this in the right manner.

“That is to play the way we’ve been playing, without any inhibitions, and give it our best shot.”

A bumper crowd is expected to back Middlesbrough in the home leg, and Pulis believes that support could play a crucial role in the tie.

"It's a wonderful area and the people are smashing," he added.

"This area has to get behind the team to give us the best chance to go through.

"It's us against them, let's get behind the boys and really make a din at the Riverside."