The new Championship season kicks off in less than three weeks time, and for Middlesbrough it marks a second bite of the cherry.
The Teessiders were relegated from the Premier League in 2017, and missed out on an automatic return last year following a play-off semi-final defeat to Aston Villa.
The power of Pulis
It’s their manager who may make the difference. Pulis took charge of the Reds on Boxing Day last season, following a difficult spell for the club under Garry Monk.
The pragmatic Pulis lost his first game in charge, but Boro would lose only five of their remaining 21 league fixtures to climb into the play-offs.
Pulis knows how to get a job done. The Welshman has experienced promotion three times as a manager, and has a Middlesbrough side packed with heaps of top-level experience and talent to work with.
Still enjoying their parachute payments, Boro’s squad is arguably stronger than a couple of those in the Premier League.
Britt Assombalonga, Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede make up perhaps the strongest strikeforce in the Championship.
They’re supported by Stewart Downing, Adama Traore , Grant Leadbitter, Adam Clayton and Jonny Howson in midfield.
Pulis has kept much of the squad intact, but the former Stoke City boss has made a couple of potentially shrewd and crucial additions at the back.
Defence holds the key
Aden Flint has moved north in a £7m deal from Bristol City. The centre-half has been a rock for the Robins over the last five seasons. He’s banged in 39 goals for them too and at more than 6ft 4in, is a classic Pulis signing.
Also heading to Teesside, albeit with a much shorter journey is Paddy McNair from Sunderland. The 23-year-old will be hoping to kick-start his career at Boro.
Again standing on the tall side of 6ft 1, McNair brings more physicality to the back, while his ability to place centre-half or in midfield gives Pulis welcome tactical options.
Though the 60-year-old improved Boro greatly last season, the Reds only managed six clean sheets under his tenure. It’s clear the Welshman is making moves to ensure improvement this time around.
With the firepower at his disposal up front, Pulis knows that if he fixes the defence, he’s probably going to make Boro the team to beat this season.
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