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12th May 2018

If you had asked Boro supporters in August if they'd have been happy with a play-off place after finishing fifth, a distance behind the automatically promoted clubs, then the responses would not have been very positive.

After a season of inconsistency and a managerial change along the way the mood is now very optimistic. Tony Pulis has organised and re-motivated a squad that had previously looked to be very unlikely to feature in the push for the anticipated return to the Premier League.

Perhaps not everyone's choice to replace Gary Monk, he has answered the doubters, rather than the chopping and changing from game to game as Monk did as he tried desperately to find a consistent winning formula. He has trimmed the squad and everyone seems to know their role and function within the team.

Indeed the vibes coming out of The Riverside are very positive and nobody seems to have a bad word to say about the experienced manager.

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Players appear reborn and revitalised under Pulis, whilst the team as a whole are a better unit, playing to clearly the manager's instructions there have been notable and outstanding individuals.

Shotton who played under Pullis at Stoke City has made the right back berth his own, Daniel Ayala, often out of favour under Monk, is not only a vital part of the back four but is weighing in with a number of goals. Indeed he is the focal point of attacking free-kicks, corners and the long throw-ins that has become the norm since the turn of the year.

Patrick Bamford has proved that he can recreate the form that he showed whilst at the club under his first spell when on loan from Chelsea.

Without doubt the effect that the new manger has had on Adama Traore is the main reason Boro have finished the season on the front foot. Pulis has turned his undoubted potential into performances that at times make him almost unplayable. It would seem that most opponents have to resort to foul means to halt his electrifying runs and mazy dribbles. Villa know all about him and may regret the decision to let him leave.

All in all there is plenty to be confident about. Villa will be tough opponents as they have bags of experience but often the team that hits the play-offs in good form can take the final promotion place. The feeling on Teesside is that Boro have every chance to do just that.

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