Tony Pulis reveals the key to beating Aston Villa as Middlesbrough lose focus on Leeds and Norwich City

Middlesbrough face play-off rivals Aston Villa this weekend
Middlesbrough face play-off rivals Aston Villa this weekend

Tony Pulis believes drawing on past triumphs could be key as his Middlesbrough side prepare to face Aston Villa.

Boro enter the meeting with Villa on the back of two consecutive defeats with their automatic promotion hopes now looking slim at best.

Instead, the Teessiders are focused on securing a play-off spot - with their opponents this weekend one of several sides looking to mount a late surge into the top six.

And Pulis is under no illusion as to how difficult a challenge Dean Smith's side will pose, but he has backed his players to draw on some of their finest performances of the campaign when they travel to Villa Park.

"Villa is going to be a tough game," he admitted.

"They're on an exceptional run and have got all their players back fit. They've got an exceptional squad when everyone is fit.

"They've missed Grealish. He is an exceptional player at this level and would be a top player in the Premier League.

"We need to put in a performance like we did when we went to Birmingham. We were really on a good run of form then, similarly to when we went to Derby, similarly to West Brom.

"It's one of those games where we've got to be really well set-up and make sure that we play the way we can play.

"We need to cause them problems, as well as them causing us problems."

Just under a fortnight ago, Boro has designs on pushing towards the top two in the final weeks of the season.

But recent results have caused Middlesbrough to lose ground on pace-setters Norwich City and Leeds United, with Pulis admitting that the table can change rapidly - as has been evidenced in recent weeks.

However, he still believes that there are plenty more twists and turns to come in the promotion race before the end of the campaign.

"It changes so quickly," added Pulis.

"As I've said, there will be bumps in the road between now and the end of the season.

"It's about keeping everybody grounded, keeping everybody with their feet on the ground.

"You can lose a couple, this is only the first or second time we've lost back-to-back games since I've been at the football club, so it's about showing a bit of character and we've got this big game now on Saturday, which is important."