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Middlesbrough made a mistake by appointing Tony Pulis

Tony Pulis has experienced a disappointing start to life at the Riverside Stadium.

Jake Jackman

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Middlesbrough
Photo: Getty Images

Middlesbrough are at risk of missing out on the play-offs after a disappointing away loss to Sheffield United this week.

The defeat means that Tony Pulis’ side have taken only five points from their last five fixtures.

At this stage of the season, momentum is a huge factor and the Teesside club have lost theirs.

Meanwhile, Millwall have won nine of their last 11 matches and haven’t lost in the Championship since the first day of the year.

This season was all about promotion for Middlesbrough and their summer recruitment highlighted that.

The relegated club spent just over £50 million, according to transfermarket.co.uk, and started the season as the favourites to win the Championship.

It is a thankless task to return at the first attempt and only five clubs have managed it during the past five seasons, with only two of those finishing in the automatic promotion places.

(Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)

Although Middlesbrough have been competing in the top half for the majority of the season, they haven’t stood out as one of the better teams in the division.

They are currently 23 points behind league leaders Wolves and that is a testament to the challenges posed by the division.

Tony Pulis was appointed in December and it was an appointment made with the view of becoming an established Premier League club as he has never been relegated as a manager.

However, he has only won promotion from the second tier once and that came ten years ago.

As years past, managers become pigeonholed as specialists at certain jobs and his spell at Middlesbrough suggests that the Welshman is better suited to fire-fighting at the bottom of the top-flight rather than challenging for promotion to it.

That is in contrast to managerial peers Neil Warnock and Steve Bruce.

Neither have managed to have Pulis’ success in the Premier League, but they have both become renowned for thriving in the Championship.

During his 20-match spell at the club, Pulis has led the club to nine victories.

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

To put this into context, his win percentage of 45% is only fractionally higher than the 42.86% he managed with Crystal Palace when fighting relegation.

Considering the quality in the Boro squad and ambitions of the club, to win less than half of the matches in charge is disappointing.

It is interesting to note that Middlesbrough have kept only six clean sheets in that period of matches and that is a worrying sign for Pulis.

He is a manager known for making teams difficult to beat and it appears that he is struggling to marry that while threatening in attack.

In his previous jobs, there has been less pressure to play attacking football as the objective was to remain rather than progress.

The team selected to play against Sheffield United showed the quality that remains at the club.

Ben Gibson, Jonny Howson, Stewart Downing and Adama Traore were all in the starting eleven among others.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

Traore has been a revelation this season and benefitted from a season outside of the Premier League, but a better coach would be able to get more from him and the rest of the attack.

They have four matches remaining and their fate remains in their own hands, as they have Millwall left to play at the Riverside Stadium.

That is shaping up to be a huge match during the penultimate week of the regular season.

At the time of writing, there is only one winner on paper and that isn’t Middlesbrough.

There was logic behind appointing Pulis. He is an experienced Premier League manager who is very good at stabilising a team in the top flight.

In time, Middlesbrough will need this, but he isn’t the right fit for the club right now and that will be clear if they miss out on a play-off position.

Jake is a journalist based in the South East. He is a Newcastle United fan and has a keen interest in Dutch football. Jake can be found on Twitter here - @jakejackmann.

Blackburn Rovers

Bradley Dack will be the Championship’s hottest property this season

The Blackburn playmaker has impressed in the opening weeks of the new season.

Liam Thomas

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Bradley Dack
Photo: Getty Images

Despite drawing their two first fixtures in the Championship this season, Blackburn have one of the league’s hottest properties in their ranks with 24-year-old midfielder Bradley Dack.

Dack joined Blackburn from Gillingham in 2017 and helped the Lancashire club’s promotion push to the Championship from League one last season, hitting the back of the net 18 times.

Dack’s talents won’t be news to any followers of the lower leagues with the creative midfielder picking up League One Player of the Year last season and in the 2015/16 campaign.

Tony Mowbray’s star man’s early season exploits seem to suggest he will be doing a lot of the same in the Championship this season.

Dack has been directly involved in 16 goals in his last 14 games for Blackburn in all competitions (nine goals, seven assists).

Impressive stats from the playmaker, whose talents were on full display in Blackburn’s Tuesday night Carabao Cup demolition job of Carlisle, where he ran the show, scoring and assisting twice in his sides 5-1 win.

If Dack continues this kind of form, it’s hard to see past any Premier League teams making a move for the attacking midfielder, especially if he receives the end of the season accolades after this campaign.

However, the 24-year-old’s current deal with Blackburn runs until 2021 and prizing him away from Ewood Park may take a considerable fee and a lot of persuasion.

It remains to be seen whether Dack will win the Championship Player of the Year award come the end of the season, but his early season form suggests that the midfielder is more than capable of doing so.

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Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest must loan out academy graduate Joe Worrall

The Reds have a proud history of nurturing players from their own academy.

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Joe Worrall
Photo: Getty Images

Nottingham Forest have made a solid start to the 2018/19 campaign with the Reds winning one and drawing two of their first three matches, playing some eye-catching football in the process.

Having spent heavily in the summer it looks as though the club’s hierarchy have tasked boss Aitor Karanka with making a genuine attempt at reaching the Premier League for the first time in over 20 years.

Given the amount of money spent it does seem as though some of last year’s players might be nothing more than fringe operatives this season and that could see many of the players deemed surplus sent out on loan before the end of the month. .

One man who could fall foul of Forest’s recruitment drive is academy graduate Joe Worrall, with the youngster failing to make any of Karanka’s squads so far this season after recovering from a knee problem which saw him miss the back end of last season.

The 21-year-old has played just over 50 times for the Reds since making his debut in October 2016 in an away game against Reading and there has been enough from his performances to suggest that he can become a regular in the Forest team at some stage.

After his latest injury setback, however, it is vitally important that Worrall gets some games under his belt and after Forest signed Michael Dawson, Tobias Figueriredo and Michael Hefele during the summer, it seems extremely unlikely that the prospect will be featuring for the first-team any time soon and it might be in the club’s best interests to sort Worrall out with a club where he will play more games.

In previous years, Forest haven’t been blessed with the plethora of talent that they have within their ranks now and that perhaps means that some of the club’s very own products might have to wait for more first-team chances, particularly over the course of this season.

Worrall has the ability to definitely be seen as one for the future at the City Ground, but a loan spell does seem like the best option for his development, at least for the 2018/19 campaign.

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Fulham

One to watch: Ryan Sessegnon under the spotlight as Tottenham host Fulham

The teenager could be forced to play at left-back this weekend.

Max Cohen

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Sessegnon
Photo: Getty Images

Ryan Sessegnon’s Premier League debut did not go quite as planned.

The highly-rated 18-year-old, who took the Championship by storm the past two seasons was largely neutralised by Crystal Palace‘s Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and was denied space in the attacking areas where he is usually so dangerous.

It is still early days and it was by no means a poor performance, but revealed how the youngster must quickly adapt to the higher level of the top flight.

Sessegnon’s second ever Premier League match will come away at Tottenham Hotspur this Saturday and his performance at Wembley could go a long way in determining his success this season and later in his career.

Playing against the club he has so often been linked with will undoubtedly be difficult, providing a mental challenge that he is unlikely to have faced before.

However, perhaps the more challenging proposition will be in the footballing department. Fulham’s new left back Joe Bryan was forced off against Palace on the weekend with an injury, and is expected to be a doubt for Saturday’s fixture.

Without any true left back back-ups, Sessegnon will most likely be tasked with filling in at the left side of defence, instead of his preferred left wing position.

Against a fearsome attacking team such as Spurs, boasting the likes of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, and Dele Alli, the 18-year-old could endure a baptism of fire in his first ever top flight start as a defender.

Sessegnon’s performance will also be illuminating as it could provide a glimpse into his future as an attacking left back– not as an out-and-out left winger.

“He is an incredible player project, with a fantastic physical capacity. People compare him to Bale, for me it’s a mix between Marcelo and Bale. I’ve used him lately in a more offensive role, but he’s ready to be left-back of a big team that constantly attacks.”

Slavisa Jokanovic speaking to Marca this summer on Sessegnon’s future position

According to his manager, Sessegnon could develop into an attack-minded defender for a ‘big-team.’

On Saturday at Wembley, Spurs supporters could catch a first glimpse of the youngster in that role in the Premier League – a role they will be hoping he can perform for the club in north London one day.

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