BORO ON COURSE TO BOUNCE BACK

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By David Pow­ell

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.”

PIC­TURES: MI News & Sport

HOW ABOUT THAT? Boro’s Jonny How­son cel­e­brates af­ter putting his side 2-0 up, goal in­set

STAR MAN DANIEL AYALA Mid­dles­brough

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