BORO ON COURSE TO BOUNCE BACK
IT IS not yet job done for Middlesbrough but with a place in the play-offs guaranteed, at least it is a case of being halfway there.
Tony Pulis’ side are guaranteed a play-off place after goals from Britt Assombalonga and Jonny Howson effectively ended Millwall’s pursuit of a top-six spot and having also seen off Bristol City and Derby County in their last three matches, Boro are peaking at just the right time.
Pulis’ arrival has galvanised a team that suffered from a soft underbelly under Garry Monk and having dropped out of the Premier League last season, it would be dangerous to bet against the Teessiders making an immediate return.
They were much too good for a Millwall side that have overachieved following their promotion from League One and will head to Ipswich to complete their league programme on Sunday having lost just two of their last 13 games.
Pulis said: “We’re delighted that we’re now in the play-offs.
“Now, it’s a case of looking forward to the Ipswich game, and then going on from there.
“One or two players might need a rest, and one or two players might be taken out of the Ipswich game.
“Alternatively, I might go with the same team.
“I’ll have a good look at it next week and have a good chat with the boys, and see where they are. Then we’ll look forward to those play-off games.
“We knew we’d have to compete with Millwall, and then when we got the opportunities, we had to play the way we can play.
“We had lots of the ball in the first half but didn’t really create enough chances or have enough shots at goal.
“That was my criticism at halftime but I’m very, very pleased with the result and the performance.”
Boro got off the ideal start as Assombalonga controlled Daniel Ayala’s long clearance in the 12th minute before firing home via the inside of the post.
Stewart Downing was unable to convert a couple of decent chances to add to Middlesbrough’s lead before the interval and Adama Traore wasted an excellent opening when he fired wide shortly after the interval.
Boro’s second goal came shortly after the hour mark and owed much to a goalkeeping howler that saw Jordan Archer allow Downing’s cross to slip from his grasp, enabling Howson to tap home from close range.
Millwall’s only chance of getting back into the game came to nothing when Lee Gregory directed a weak header straight into the hands of Darren Randolph.
The final whistle heralded an impromptu pitch invasion that led to some ugly scenes as opposing fans threw bottles and seats in the corner of the ground.
Millwall boss Neil Harris said: “If you had said to me at the start of the season that we’d be going into the final game not having to look over our shoulders at the likes of Burton, Bolton, Barnsley and Birmingham, I’d have been delighted.
“At the end of next week’s 90 minutes, it’ll be a time for reflection and we can look back on what we’ve achieved.
“Up until the last two games, we’ve done some miraculous things.
“We’ve probably been found out a bit in the last two matches, and it’s a bit of a reality check for our football club, but we want to go out on a high against Aston Villa now.”
HOW ABOUT THAT? Boro’s Jonny Howson celebrates after putting his side 2-0 up, goal inset
STAR MAN DANIEL AYALA Middlesbrough