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Tony Pulis must give Middlesbrough the steel to beat Championship heavy hitters

Boro are sixth in the Championship with a tough season run-in.



Photo: Getty Images

As we leave the Easter weekend behind the Championship heavyweights are limbering up to slug it out for promotion.

Wolves have blitzed through the Championship like Anthony Joshua. Cardiff have taken Dillian Whyte approach in scrappily battling their way to the top end of the rankings.

Much like David Price, Leeds United stopped all comers early on before plummeting down the table following some bad knockout losses.

Boro? At the minute they resemble a Derek Chisora, comfortably dealing with low-level opposition but falling short every time they step up in class.

This is not a new problem. Boro have taken only six points from 33 against the sides in the top eight.

Garry Monk had managed to keep the club in touch with the play-off pack but failure to pick up points against promotion rivals (he lost key games against the likes of Cardiff, Derby and Wolves) cost him his job.

It was hoped that the appointment of Tony Pulis would give Boro the steel required to bite down on the gum shield and pick up the points in bruising battles against their rivals.

However, to date, Pulis has yet to find a formula for fighting back in these fixtures.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

The recent run of 14 points from a possible 18 that propelled Boro into the play-offs came from a run of fixtures against sides mired in mid-table or lower – just the kind of games that Monk used to pick up points from.

Prior to that run, Boro endured disappointing defeats against rivals Aston Villa and Cardiff.

Since then, Boro started well on Good Friday before falling apart at home to Wolves, another of the Championships top teams, after conceding and couldn’t salvage anything from the game despite the opposition being reduced to nine men.

Boro have the resources to put this problem right. The squad is packed with players who can pick up points in key games, many of them being part of the Aitor Karanka squad that took four points off rivals Burnley and Brighton to secure promotion.

In the season prior to that, defeats at Bournemouth and Watford cost Boro an automatic spot so we all know how crucial these fixtures can be. Upcoming bouts against fellow contenders Sheffield United, Bristol City, Derby and Millwall may well decide what division Boro are playing in next season.

Only managing a draw at basement boys Burton on Easter Monday means that it will now be difficult to hold onto the coveted 6th place and a final play-off spot.

Pulis has to learn how to land the knockout blow in these games otherwise Boro will be beaten to the promotion punch and left lamenting a season in which they could have been contenders.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa’s James Chester comes back to haunt former manager Tony Pulis

The Welsh defender came back to bit his old boss in the play-off semi clash.

Max Cohen



James Chester
Photo: Getty Images

Tony Pulis’ Middlesbrough side were expertly stifled by Aston Villa in their play-off semifinal, as the Villans held Boro to 180 minutes of scoreless football.

Villa centre-half James Chester was a constant rock at the back, revealing to Pulis that his former boss was wrong to sell him when the two were together at West Bromwich Albion.

Chester signed for the Baggies from Hull City in the summer of 2015, after five impressive seasons for the Tigers. The fee was reported to be in the region of £8 million and many expected the Welsh international to excel in the back four under Pulis.

Yet, frustratingly for the centre-back, Chester made only 13 league appearances for the Baggies in the 2015/16 campaign. The Welshman started just nine Premier League matches all season, as Pulis clearly did not consider him as first-choice at the Hawthorns.

After just one year at West Brom, Chester was sold to Championship side Aston Villa in 2016.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

In the following two seasons at Villa Park, the centre-back has enjoyed tremendous success, making over 75 appearances and establishing himself as an indispensable presence at the back.

This season, Chester has struck up a formidable partnership with former Chelsea captain John Terry.

The airtight defensive combination was on full display during the two matches against Middlesbrough, as Chester and Terry stifled the high-octane Boro attack.

Featuring the likes of Britt Assambalonga, Adama Traore, Stewart Downing, Patrick Bamford, and Rudy Gestede, the Teesiders’ star-studded frontline was held scoreless due to Villa’s superb defense- led by James Chester.

As Tony Pulis watched his side run out of ideas and fall to a 1-0 aggregate defeat, he will surely be ruing his 2016 mistake.

Allowing James Chester to be sold to Aston Villa truly came back to haunt the Boro boss, as the Welsh international delivered Pulis a dramatic reminder of his abilities and cost the Teesiders a spot at Wembley.

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Nottingham Forest should seek George Friend reunion with Aitor Karanka

The experienced defender would solve a problem position at Forest.

Max Cohen



George Friend
Photo: Getty Images

Tuesday night brought disappointment for George Friend and Middlesbrough, as the Teesiders crashed out of the play-offs after a tepid 0-0 draw with Aston Villa.

Condemned to another season in the Championship, Friend should move to Nottingham Forest and reunite with former boss Aitor Karanka in order to fire Forest to promotion.

The signing of the 30-year-old Englishman would offer Karanka a top-quality full-back who has Premier League and Championship experience.

Friend played under Karanka from 2013-2017, enjoying numerous fruitful seasons as Boro thrived under the Spaniard’s direction.

The full-back played an integral role in Boro’s dominant 2015/16 promotion campaign, featuring 40 times as the club finished second in the league.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

The acquisition of the experienced defender would be welcomed at the City Ground due to Forest’s lack of depth in the left back position.

According to a column written by former Nottingham Forest player Kenny Burns, the left back position has been a worry for the club all season long.

Ben Osborn has deputised well, but is not a defender by trade, and Juan Rafael Fuentes’ performances were mediocre before he suffered a serious injury in late April against Barnsley.

It is clear that Nottingham Forest need a consistent, experienced left-back, and George Friend would be the perfect summer signing.

The influence of Karanka could prove crucial in prying the defender away from the Riverside Stadium, as the two have a close relationship thanks to their time at Boro together.

If Forest can secure the services of the Middlesbrough defender, then a promotion push might not be out of the question next season.

ddWith an experienced and impressive player like George Friend, Karanka’s side would be set to challenge for the top-six.

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Tottenham should swoop for Middlesbrough’s electrifying winger Adama Traore

The Spaniard is finally turning raw talent into end product.

Max Cohen



Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur have been persistently linked with a move for Fulham youngster Ryan Sessegnon, with recent reports in French outlet Paris United claiming that the north Londoners have already agreed a transfer.

But Spurs should resist a move for the 17-year-old and instead turn their focus to Middlesbrough star Adama Traore, the winger who tops WhoScored’s ratings for the best Championship player.

Traore is perhaps the most exciting raw talent in the entire division, possessing scintillating pace and remarkable explosiveness.

Crucially for the ex-Barcelona man, he has finally turned his natural talent into end product this campaign.

The 22-year-old has scored five goals and assisted ten for Boro, en route to amassing a remarkable 7.79 average WhoScored rating – the best in the league, by some distance.

His talents were on the show during Middlesbrough’s play-off semi-final against Aston Villa on Saturday, with the Spanish under-21 international representing Boro’s most dangerous offensive outlet.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Traore was a constant thorn in the Villa backline, using his magnificent acceleration and lightning quick turn of pace to elude defenders and get to dangerous crossing positions at ease.

The winger’s low centre of gravity and devastating feints give opposition players nightmares, a skill that would be welcomed at White Hart Lane.

After signing for Villa in 2015, the attacker struggled in an injury-hit debut season in England. A transfer to Middlesbrough followed, where the Spaniard suffered his second relegation in a row.

Now Traore has truly matured to English football and would be a superbly exciting signing for Mauricio Pochettino.

While Spurs have been linked with wingers such as Wilfried Zaha and Sessegnon to brighten up the club’s attack, Traore represents the ideal signing for White Hart Lane.

Finally able to consistently produce goals and assists in England, combined with his trademark swagger and skill, Adama Traore would be a fantastic addition to Tottenham this summer.

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