Opposition view: Pulis has made Boro a solid bet for promotion this season
Ahead of this afternoon's Carrow Road clash, Matthew Adams of Middlesbrough Supporters South gave us the lowdown on the in-form visitors' progress under Tony Pulis.
Has the strong start to the season come as a surprise?
The summer transfer activity, or lack of it, had started to temper hopes of a top two finish. Then we were 2-0 down at half-time on the opening day at Millwall and it seemed a ‘wasted’ season stuck in mid-table was on the cards. However, that second half comeback, and our watertight performances since then, have reinvigorated the fans’ belief. So, a pleasant surprise overall, and hopefully we can keep the momentum going.
How much credit does Tony Pulis deserve for shaking off the play-off hangover?
The last time we suffered play-off agony (you’re just about forgiven for that by the way) we started poorly the next year, so it was a definite worry going into the season. However, that’s where Tony’s experience has shone through. He decided upon a pre-season training camp to Austria, and it seems to have worked wonders; the players look fitter, they seem to have a clearer understanding of their roles, and the squad seems tighter as a unit. Thankfully it appears our play-off hangover lasted for about 80 minutes on the opening day, with TP’s summer camp paying dividends since then.
Were you worried by the sales of Adama Traore, Ben Gibson and Patrick Bamford?
In truth Gibson under-performed slightly last season. The money we received, and his replacement by a solid Championship defender like Aden Flint, has softened the blow somewhat. The loss of Traore was the biggest worry. TP came in and helped him realise his undoubted potential, and without him we wouldn’t have made the play-offs. In truth we became too over-reliant on him; if Traore didn’t perform, then we wouldn’t win. Some even suggest the side is more balanced now he has departed. Bamford was a shock departure. However, TP never seemed fully convinced and we got decent money for him, so we carry on and hope Britt Assombalonga can deliver.
Are you pleased with the loan players who have been brought in?
The loan signings should make a big difference. We know Mo Besic will add Premier League quality to our central midfield, and George Saville has always impressed when we’ve played Millwall. Sam McQueen should provide genuine competition for fan favourite George Friend at left-back, while Jordan Hugill is a proper Boro lad done good, a classic target man, so should flourish under TP.
Which players have impressed so far this season?
I’d say the most impressive players are some of the ones brought in by Garry Monk. Jonny Howson is finally replicating the form he showed for Norwich having underwhelmed for much of last season, while Ryan Shotton has really impressed in his new wing-back role. Martin Braithwaite has also improved under TP and looks more capable of providing an attacking spark.
Just two goals conceded so far, is that the key to the strong start?
A solid defence is always vital to any promotion charge. It was when we were promoted in 15-16, and will likely have to be this season given we are slightly thin up top. Given the experience of TP and our back line it wouldn’t be a surprise to see us finish the season with the least goals conceded.
Do you think an automatic promotion place is possible?
Despite having a small squad there’s no reason why automatic position isn’t possible. Our defensive line is top notch and Britt is a regular goal scorer at this level. Our first 11 is one of the strongest in the league, so if we can keep it injury and suspension free, then we have every chance of avoiding play-off heartbreak again.
Will you be wary of any Norwich players ahead of the game?
Slightly predictable, but the player we’re probably most wary of would be Jordan Rhodes. It didn’t work out for him at Boro of Sheff Wed, but he scored some vital late goals in our 15-16 promotion season, and he seems like a nice lad, so hopefully he can re-find his goal scoring confidence (after Saturday that is)...
And finally, what is your prediction for Saturday?
The TP brick wall will stand firm again. 2-0 Boro.