Middlesbrough v Millwall: Feeling of togetherness gives inspiration to Pulis and Boro

Middlesborough's Patrick Bamford, left. Picture: Simon Hulme
Middlesborough's Patrick Bamford, left. Picture: Simon Hulme
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it will not be lost on supporters of both Middlesbrough and Millwall who know their history that this season is the 30th anniversary of the duo being promoted together from the old second division.

In keeping with the retrospective theme that 1987-88 campaign, which saw Boro promoted through the play-offs and the Lions secure a historic championship, was a time when Aston Villa – potential opponents in the play-offs for either side next month – also went up to the top flight.

This time around, however, history will not repeat itself with only one of either Boro or Millwall able to go up.

A victory for the hosts in today’s televised tea-time game should pretty much rubber-stamp a top-six finish.

But Millwall, a true trail-blazing success story in a second half of the season that has seen them lose just once in 18 league matches since New Year’s Day, will have something to say about that as they eye play-off participation, which would represent one of the outstanding achievements of any club side this season.

Tonight’s Riverside meeting will also provide a rewind to two seasons ago when Boro were involved in some high-octane promotion games. It is arguably the biggest home game on Teesside since Boro claimed the Championship runners-up spot in a dramatic final-day draw against Brighton on May 7, 2016.

Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis. Picture: Richard Sellers/PA

If Boro require more contemporary inspiration it arrives from a poor mid-December reverse at the New Den when the hosts triumphed 2-1 on an occasion when the visitors were out-fought and out-thought.

Millwall’s home may not be to everyone’s liking, but an old-school ‘football man’ in Boro manager Tony Pulis is the sort of person who will always give it due respect. The Welshman will hope that the Riverside can prove a similarly unforgiving arena today in front of the biggest home crowd since he took over at Christmas, with it possibly nudging past the 30,000 mark.

Pulis, who must decide whether to recall fit-again Patrick Bamford – who has enjoyed a renaissance during his tenure – or stick with Britt Assombalonga, who netted a key strike in last weekend’s 2-1 win at Derby, said: “It is what I want, a hostile place, that atmosphere, everyone wants it.

“The players want to really feel that togetherness – especially when we are under pressure a little bit, as it is brilliant when things are going well.

The great thing about the supporters in the Bristol City game, was when we went a goal down – the attitude and commitment to the players on the pitch was shown in bundles.

Middlesbrough boss, Tony Pulis

“The great thing about the supporters in the Bristol City game was when we went a goal down – the attitude and commitment to the players on the pitch was shown in bundles. That helped us without a question of a doubt – that helps players. We had a feeling that we were all together, irrespective of anything else.”

Pulis may only be partway through his restoration work at Boro, but his tenure is already drawing parallels with his time at Stoke City, when he famously took the Potters back to the top flight in 2008.

The 60-year-old, who proudly hails from solid working-class stock in the South Wales town of Newport, quickly touched on the similarities between his home town, the Potteries and Teesside when he took over, with his desire to provide sporting success for what he calls “his sort of people” being a driving factor.

Whether success by way of promotion arrives this season remains another matter.

In many ways, however, Pulis has already clinched one major achievement in enabling sections of Boro supporters to start to reconnect with their club with his constant emphasis on the values of unity, graft and resolve resonating with the area’s proud industrial heritage.

Much like with Teessiders, Pulis also possesses a touch of defiance and inner steel too.

His players face visitors who boast a nine-match unbeaten streak on their travels in the Championship, including seven wins

“It does not happen overnight,” said Pulis. “But we are in a fantastic position and we have to grasp it. That is what we want to do.

“The players have performed exceptionally well over the last couple of weeks.

“They have gone to a different level and, hopefully, they can continue that.

“What happened at Stoke more than anything else; we got in to the Premier League and we were written off, not just us but the area.

“Everyone got together and thought ‘we are not going to have this’. It is very similar in many respects to this area – if you prick it, there is always a reaction.

“That is what you want. You want the supporters to give you that reaction and, hopefully, everyone turns up on Saturday and the atmosphere is first class.”