25 Sep 2020 5:21 PM +00:00

Middlesbrough: Pulis let the fans down with toothless play-off performance

Reuters/ED SYKES

Tony Pulis, the master of not losing. For Middlesbrough, that meant that they came into their game against Aston Villa set up to do just that - avoid defeat.

Zero, nil, zilch, a big fat nothing. Middlesbrough failed to muster even one shot on target against Villa. Over the two legs, they had just two shots on target against Bruce’s Villa. 

Britt Assombalonga was preferred up front over Patrick Bamford while Stewart Downing and Adama Traore were expected to support their striker. 

But that was the issue, Pulis had his team set up so defensively that Assombalonga rarely had anyone within twenty feet of him.

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It was impossible for his side to build their attacks because the team was set up to defend and not create. 

Middlesbrough set up with three central midfielders that had scored four goals between them in both legs, essentially giving them little offensive threat from the central area. 

After Saturday’s flat performance, Pulis made just one change for the return leg and it was enforced - Ayala was replaced by Dael Fry. 

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This result and performance lie solely at the door of Pulis who looks like he is unable of coaching a team to win. 

No late push

Okay, so if Pulis played for a draw until 70 minutes, where he would bring on Bamford to play alongside Assombalonga then you could say that was a decent tactical plan.

But he didn’t. He kept the shape the same when he subbed off Assombalonga on 68 minutes for Bamford. 

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Reuters/ED SYKES


Five minutes later he put Gestede on. A player who has not played since February. 

A rusty Gestede proved to do nothing while the delivery from the wings continued to underwhelm with Traore having the crossing skills of a cocker spaniel. 

Boro eventually tried to push in the last ten minutes of the game but failed to really muster a serious attack.

A bad refereeing decision

Pulis does have one thing he can moan about though. The decision by Mike Dean not to send Sam Johnstone off for a blatant handball outside the box was baffling. 

More baffling was the fact Dean clearly saw the foul and handed out a booking to the Villa keeper. 

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With four minutes of normal time left this decision could have been crucial, but in all honesty, Boro’s blunt attacks were never likely to penetrate Villa’s defence even if they had ten men. 

From the resulting free kick Boro did nearly score as Stewart Downing hit the bar. That summed up their night, though, as the only way the team would ever score was from a set-piece - standard Pulis. 

Pulis let the fans down

The biggest loser out of all of this was the Boro faithful. They travelled in their thousands to Villa Park and saw a performance not fitting of their magnificent support.

In two legs Pulis set his side up to simply defend, defend, defend. 

Surely he must question his tactics and wonder if he was too negative. Villa were there for the taking over both legs, yet a defence-first approach has left Middlesbrough with another season of Championship football. 

Do you think Tony Pulis let down the Boro fans? Let us know by commenting below.

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