Tony Pulis starts mind games ahead of Boro’s play-off duel with Aston Villa

Stewart Downing
Stewart Downing

Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis believes Aston Villa will be “big favourites” for their Championship play-off games.

He was speaking after his side grabbed a 2-2 draw at Ipswich Town yesterday to close their Championship season, thanks to a 96th-minute strike by substitute Patrick Bamford.

The result made if four matches unbeaten for Boro, retaining their momentum ahead of the two games against Steve Bruce’s Villa – at home this Saturday (5.15pm) and away on Tuesday, May 15.

Pulis said: “If you had given me a play-off position when I took over the football club, I wouldn’t have cared who we were playing, so I can’t be judgmental or care or worry about who it is.

“We have got Villa, who most probably have the strongest squad in the Championship and it will be a real tough game. They will be big favourites, I’m sure.”

Reflecting on the draw at Portman Road, he said: “I thought it was a real good game. I thought they looked dangerous more so second half on the break than what they did first half and we had loads of opportunities and chances and never created enough shots on goal if I was going to be critical. But they kept going and have got good spirit.”

He claimed that Ayala was onside when he put the ball in the net towards the end of the game and added: “He is in an onside position when it comes off the bar and he taps it in. He shouldn’t be offside.

“People make decisions and you have to get on with them. We have got more things to concern ourselves about than the linesman getting it wrong.”

The Suffolk side went ahead with a wonderful Freddie Sears strike in the eighth minute, breaking free of Ben Gibson’s challenge and driving a superb shot begond keeper Darren Randolph.

Stewart Downing levelled on 71 minutes, firing through a crowded penalty box following an Adama Traore corner.

Ipswich restored their lead with seven minutes left, when Martyn Waghorn converted a penalty after lively sub Shane McLoughlin charged down a clearance by Daniel Ayala and was fouled in the area by Gibson.

Substitute Bamford made it 2-2 deep into stoppage time, heading home Jack Harrison’s corner, in a frenetic period when Ayala had a volleyed goal disallowed for offside, after Mo Besic struck the bar, and chances by Bamford and Britt Assombalonga were denied by the Ipswich defence.

Ipswich: Bialkowski, Carter-Vickers, Webster, Knudsen, Spence (Woolfenden 88), Connolly (Hyam 77), Skuse, Nydam (McLoughlin 76), Kenlock, Waghorn, Sears. Subs not used: Crowe, Gleeson, Morris, Cotter. Booked: Skuse, Nydam, Sears. Goals: Sears 8, Waghorn 83 pen.

Middlesbrough: Randolph, Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Howson (Bamford 61), Clayton (Harrison 88), Besic, Traore, Assombalonga, Downing. Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Da Silva, Leadbitter, Cranie, Fry. Booked: Gibson. Goals: Downing 71, Bamford 90.

Att: 18,829. Ref: David Coote (Nottinghamshire).