View from Teesside: Tony Pulis effect is noticeable as Middlesbrough prepare for Norwich City trip
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Today's view from Teesside comes from James Howell, who co-runs The Boro Podcast.
Was it a fair decision to sack Garry Monk last month?
The general consensus among Boro fans is that Garry Monk wasn't moving us forward. Our chairman, Steve Gibson, is very patient with managers and this has been to his detriment in the past. Monk wasn't able to impress his ideas on the players and fans often saw disjointed performances. Players were unsure of their roles and what they were supposed to be doing. There was also a lot of tactical naivety. The points we picked up in the first half of the season can be attributed to the quality in our squad. It was evident when we came up against top-six/top-half sides who could simply bully us and take all three point.
Has there been sign of progress under Tony Pulis?
Tony Pulis has improved in all the areas where Garry Monk was lacking. He has given the players a crystal clear idea of what he wants from the team and from the individual. Some of the performances have been very impressive, notably QPR away last week. However, it is a slow process. We are yet to score a home league goal under Pulis, but fans are attributing the lack of goals to wasteful forwards. The green shoots are starting to show and hopefully there is time left. Not surprisingly, we've become a threat at set-pieces and Dani Ayala is enjoying a purple patch because of this.
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Are you feeling confident of a play-off place?
As it stands we're only three points off the play-off positions and, in this league, anything is possible. The fans are feeling quietly optimistic of sneaking into the top six. There are enough games left and if we can put a run together we should be up there. But this weekend serves as a painful reminder of our last play-off adventure.
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How has Jonny Howson been doing since joining from City?
Jonny Howson has been a slow burner. Initially he looked unsure of his role and lacking confidence when partnered up with Grant Leadbitter. Fans wanted to see him dropped for Adam Clayton, a favourite among Teessiders, but in the last six weeks or so Howson has proved us all wrong. Boro fans are now seeing a confident and dynamic box-to-box midfielder who has formed a important partnership with Leadbitter.
Dani Ayala and Patrick Bamford didn't impress for Norwich – are they rated at Boro?
Dani Ayala has been a solid presence at Boro, especially under Aitor Karanka and now Tony Pulis. On his day, Ayala is aggressive, dominant in the air and formed an fierce partnership with Ben Gibson. The pair of them, along with the rest of the defence and goalkeeper, managed to achieve record breaking numbers of clean sheets and an impressive goals against column. But on one of his off days, he's can be liability – for example, against Derby County at the Riverside he was sent off and gave away a goal or two. Patrick Bamford on the other hand is a bit of enigma. His scoring exploits in our play-off season were remarkable and he couldn't stop scoring if he tried. But since an injury (inflicted by Sebastien Bassong) I don't think he's been the same player. He struggled to adapt in the Premier League at Burnley, Palace, yourselves and arguably us. He's still enjoying some breathing space after his goal scoring season, but time is running out.
Who have been your best performers?
One of the themes of this season has been massive inconsistency, which is something Pulis wants to stamp out. Britt Assombalonga was well on track to breaking 20 league goals for the season but has stalled recently. At the moment we've finally been able to get fantastic and, more surprisingly, consistent performances from our lightning winger Adama Traoré. Pulis has played to his strengths and a combination of his ability to shield the ball and explosive pace means he's arguably the best winger in the league. He's definitely one for Norwich city fans to watch out for.
Will you be wary of any of the City players?
We've not forgotten about James Maddison's strike at the Riverside. He's been in fantastic form this season. If we can keep him quiet we should be in for a good game. I was very relieved to see Cameron Jerome leave for Derby; his performance at Wembley still gives me nightmares.
And finally, what is your prediction for the game?
I'm hoping our away form continues and expect us to run out 0-2 winners, with Assombalonga and Ayala on the scoresheet.
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