What a difference a Pulis makes

Tony Pulis isn’t the first name that springs to mind when you think of attacking football and his appointment at Boro was riddled with comments of the ‘not pretty’ style of play he was going to bring. ‘You won’t see many goals’ and ‘prepare to defend’ were terms that were echoing around the stands and across social media when he was appointed. At the moment, nothing could be further from the truth.

The impact he has had has been clear from day one, even if the results initially didn’t reflect the huge steps that were being made; however, the tide has changed and seeing 23 goals in 13 games since Pulis arrived is not to be sniffed at. It puts us 5th in the form table over the time he has been in charge and in all fairness, he’s also been a little unlucky with some decisions during games at times which could have increased our points ratio even further.

Of course some of the Pulis trademarks are clear to see; we are well organised, hardworking, and the legendary long throws into the box make a regular appearance; Ryan Shotton is the new Rory Delap. Although, the surprising part of Pulis’ early reign is his use of the ultra-talented, super fast, Adama Traore and his desire to get the team forward quickly.

Tony Pulis came to a club whose expectations were high at the start of the season, but poor management and a string of over priced average signings not making the grade was taking it’s toll. It was a big project to take on, and a tough one considering the time of his arrival. However, having a solid Chairman in Steve Gibson backing him, and the long term target of not only promotion but to build something at the club which will carry on into the future, is an ideal fit and perfect challenge for someone of Pulis’ experience.

Garry Monk was seen as a progressive manager and was brought in with the idea of breaking away from the boring style of play instilled under Karanka, yet it is Tony Pulis who is providing the club with the most attacking and balanced football we’ve seen for a few seasons. In all honesty, the job was too big for Monk and he maybe lacked the character to lead a promotion charge. Pulis has the character and has been there before; he already has the t-shirt.

Since Pulis’ arrival, the players have been given clear direction, they each know their roles, and he is making the most of what’s at his disposal. This all raises the question as to whether Pulis’ football style was dictated by the resources of the clubs he has managed, rather than his philosophy.

He’s openly said he likes the defence to feed the wide players at the earliest opportunity and when you’re doing that with players like the Adama Traore, who has the skill and pace to beat players for fun, it’s making things very very exciting. It’s not just the long ball game people thought it would be.

The change in Adama is truly remarkable and he is rewarding his manager for keeping the faith by putting in Man Of The Match performances week in week out. He really is flourishing, he’s getting better with every game, and is the first player since Juninho to have me on the edge of my seat every time he gets the ball.

Another player to flourish under Pulis is Stewart Downing. This is someone with bags of experience and quality; a player who was told he could leave under Garry Monk at the start of the season. It seems that the manager is giving Downing the respect he deserves and using that to fuel his confidence. He’s been a solid performer since Pulis walked through the door and the fans are starting to warm back up to the once floundering winger. The old Stewy is back.

The arrival of Mo Besic has also helped massively. He is one of the few signings Pulis has been able to make and in his performances so far, he has been absolute class. He is confident in possession and is keen to carry the ball forward. He is exactly what we needed to improve our balance and credit has to be given to the manager for plugging that gap with such quality. The only drawback is that Besic is only on loan… oh how I’d love to keep him. At a reported £4.5m asking price, Mo looks like an absolute bargain if we can get him in the summer.

Of course, all this new found midfield quality and movement has paved the way for Patrick Bamford’s form to improve. Each change made by the manager is having a knock-on effect. Yes, there has been an element of fortune on Bamford’s part, as the unfortunate injury to Rudy Gestede has seen Patrick promoted to the main striker; but football is about opportunities and Patrick Bamford is taking his chance. He has now scored eight goals in five games and he really is looking like the player he was in his first spell with the club. It’s easy to forget that Paddy was ‘Championship player of the season’ first time around and is now in the top 10 all time scorers at the Riverside.

Pulis also isn’t afraid to make a tough decision. Choosing to drop Britt Assombalonga, the clubs record signing and leading goal scorer, is brave and the change has had a positive impact on the overall performances of the team; and that’s what it is about for Pulis – the team.

Currently it’s hard to find fault with what Tony Pulis is doing, and as easy as it is to back him when things are going well, his appointment seems to be exactly what we needed. The fans who were sceptical over is appointment are slowly being turned; not just by the results, but by his open and honest approach. It’s worlds away from the repetitive robotic comments heard from Garry Monk each week. Pulis is open, he’s honest and demands hard work which mirrors the foundations that Middlesbrough was built on; hard work and wearing your heart on your sleeve.

We are solid, great to watch, and scoring plenty of goals. The excitement of a match day is back and long may it continue.

The promotion run in is set to be a close one with a number of teams eyeing the play off places and credit has to be given to Pulis and the players for their hard work to keep us in with a shout. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

Up The Boro!

Russ Johnson

featured image credit Sky Sports