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Functional Boro hoping for happy ending – Interview
Friday, 22nd Feb 2019 10:18 by Clive Whittingham

Middlesbrough are firmly in the play-off picture ahead of our visit on Saturday, but whether you’d want to watch them every week is another matter says Riverside regular James Boothby.

It’s looked like a very functional season for Boro so far, how would you assess it?

Functional is the perfect word for it. We are once again built on solid foundations, but struggle at the top end of the pitch. Our away record is superb, we have just really struggled to perform at home. We have really struggled to play on the front foot and create chances – everything just seems a bit flat considering where we are in the league. That being said, we are still very much in the hunt for the play-offs at least. It has been a strange season – hopefully with a happy ending.

Saw a bit of anger towards Pulis in the wake of Burton/Newport cup disasters - how’s he doing overall? What’s the general feeling towards him?

He has very much divided opinion pretty much since he was appointed. For some people, he has done well with the lack of attacking options he has to keep us in the promotion hunt. For others, he has more than enough talent in the squad but has coached any attacking instinct out of them. The football has been functional, and you can get away with that when you are winning games I think. We have dropped far too many points at home though and the natives have been getting restless. He has had a knack though of pulling a good performance out just as the pressure seems to be building on him.

Just one January signing, what do you make of Mikel and the month of business as a whole?

Hugely frustrating, I think for Pulis as well as the fans. Ever since the August window shut he has talked about the lack of pace and power up front, and I think we all hoped we would address that. We really struggled to get players out though, with a number of big earners on the fringes happy to just pick up their cash. Van La Parra also came in but has had barely had a kick. Mikel has been different class though, and says he is still only 80% match fit. Makes the game look so easy in the middle of the park and looks like he is playing with a cigar at times. When he is fully fit should easily be one of the top players in the league.

Stand out players this season?

Darren Randolph in goal has been an absolute star. Single handedly kept us in games at times, and his triple save against Leeds the other week was superb. I know I am biased, but the best keeper in the league for me. Lewis Wing in the middle has also had a good season. From playing Northern League two years ago to one of the first names on the teamsheet. Always looking for a forward pass, and has an eye for goal.

Weak links in the side?

Surprisingly, a few question marks about the defence in terms of numbers. Flint is out injured, with potentially Friend also out leaves us looking a touch short of options. Howson and Saville played as wingbacks against Blackburn and both played really well and with Ayala back from suspension hopefully we should not have too many issues. Scoring goals has also been a problem – Hugill works hard but has suffered from lack of support but again against Blackburn Assombalonga and Fletcher both started and looked good together. It all depends which formation Pulis goes with really.

Do you think you’ll see the promotion through and what are the consequences if you don’t?

Top two look out of reach for us I think, and other sides around us are in better form if Norwich and Leeds slip up. Play-offs has to be the target realistically, and we have a relatively kind (in Championship terms) run of fixtures coming up. In the play-offs anything can happen, and we do have a good record against the top six this season. If we do miss out then I can only see the purse strings getting tightened further. Would expect us to try and get rid of the big earners off the wage bill, and look to lower leagues for a few rough diamonds. And I would not expect Pulis to still be here...

The Twitter @jamesyboz, @loftforwords

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Antti_Heinola added 11:41 - Feb 22
Lack of forward options?
Must be an absolute nightmare only having £15m Assombalonga, Fletcher, Hugill, Gestede.

TacticalR added 22:30 - Feb 22
Thanks to James.

It sounds like Pulis has kept Boro in contention without setting the world alight. They didn't look that great against us at Loftus Road in December.

francisbowles added 10:32 - Feb 23
Another positive is that the substitutions made us better on Tuesday, which hasn't been the case very often. All brought on early at 46 and 71, the latter when we losing. All had time to get into the game and influence it. We just got unlucky with the injury and then panic set in.

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