When Middlesbrough were relegated from the Premier League in 2017, the club’s supporters must have been concerned about whether their side would have enough guile to compete in one of the world’s most competitive divisions.
Following Aitor Karanka’s departure from the Riverside Stadium, chairman Steve Gibson decided to appoint Garry Monk as the club’s new manager yet his stay in North Yorkshire would only last for seven months as he was sacked in December following a poor run of results.
Middlesbrough vs Aston Villa – May 2018
With Boro ninth in the Championship standings, Tony Pulis was brought in as the replacement for the 40-year-old and was tasked with the challenge of trying to gate-crash the play-offs at the end of the season.
Preferring a more direct style of football in comparison to Monk’s tactics, the former West Bromwich Albion boss made his Smoggies side incredibly hard to beat, a ploy which paid off as they managed to sneak into the top-six after winning their final three games of the year.
Having set-up a semi-final clash with Aston Villa, Boro knew that they were within touching distance of an immediate return to the top-flight and so expectation was high amongst supporters.
However, despite dominating vast sways of possession in the first leg of their showdown with the Lions, Pulis’ side were incredibly wasteful in-front of goal and succumbed to a 1-0 defeat at the Riverside.
Needing to deliver an immediate response in the return leg at Villa Park, the Smoggies were once again toothless in-front of goal with only Stewart Downing providing any threat going forward.
Although the 34-year-old would hit the bar in the closing stages, he as well as the rest of his team-mates would suffer heartbreak in the play-offs, having worked so hard to get there.
Despite it being overwhelmingly obvious that Pulis needed to alter his tactics to encourage more of an attacking threat during the current campaign, the fact that his side have only scored 47 goals in 45 games clearly shows that he has opted not to change his approach.
Whereas the 61-year-old succeeded by utilising this particular style during his time in charge of Stoke City, to achieve promotion from the Championship in 2019, you simply cannot rely solely on a solid defence and so it is not surprising that Boro have gone backwards this year.
Barring a total collapse from Derby County in their next two fixtures, the Smoggies will be playing second tier football for the third successive season.
If this is indeed the case, Pulis will only have himself to blame as it is his failure to learn from his mistakes in last year’s play-off semi-final which has led the club to the position in which they now find themselves in.
Boro fans, how were you feeling about the loss at the time? Think the club have recovered at all? Join the discussion by commenting below…