A LONG way from home, but close to their roots, in many respects.
From working-class backgrounds in South Wales, where the iron, steel and coal industries were once dominant – as it also used to be in the region where they now ply their trade – Tony Pulis and Chris Coleman are now assigned with somehow putting the smiles back on the faces of Middlesbrough and Sunderland fans following a joyless 2017.
Both managers have been stirred by the challenge of regenerating two proud clubs in an area deprived of genuine footballing success for too many years, just as their native South Wales most definitely was until a recent mini-renaissance at Swansea City and Cardiff City.
It says everything about the mentality of Pulis and Coleman that instead of taking the easy route towards the tail-end of last year and enjoying a stress-free end to 2017 before coming back fully rested and recharged for their next managerial mission, they rolled up their sleeves and decided to get their hands dirty straightaway.
Their respective sides may meet at the Riverside today with bigger battles to win at opposite ends of the Championship, but the competitive juices and spicy edge of a Tees-Wear derby, in front of a raucous crowd – including 4,500 visiting fans – will remind them just why they signed up with Boro and the Black Cats.
Boro boss Pulis may use today’s fixture to have a look at some players who he has yet to scrutinise fully at first-team level, but neither is he underestimating the merits of victory either.
The Teessiders currently hold sway in terms of recent games with Sunderland, winning their last four outings, although the pair’s last meeting in the FA Cup ended up in a 2-1 win for the Wearsiders in a fourth-round replay triumph in February 2012.
In the duo’s only other FA Cup meeting since World War Two, Boro were victorious in a 3-1 win in front of 39,400 at Ayresome Park in January 1975.
An avowed fan of the Cup, Pulis, 59, who led Stoke City to the FA Cup final in 2011, is also mindful of the potential morale-boost should progression to the next round be gained this afternoon.
Registering a first home victory of his Riverside reign at the expense of Sunderland will also earn him immediate respect from the Boro fans.
If we could have a good cup run, I would be absolutely delighted. For a lad who was born in the 50s, brought up in the 60s, the FA Cup final will always remain very special to me.Middlesbrough boss, Tony Pulis.
Pulis said: “I have always been a loyal supporter of the FA Cup, I was fortunate to take a team to the Cup final.
“It was an outstanding year, on the basis we were comfortable in the Premier League and did not have to worry about dropping out of it, while attacking and doing well in the FA Cup.
“If we could have a good cup run I would be absolutely delighted. For a lad who was born in the 50s, brought up in the 60s, the FA Cup final will always remain very special to me.”
The cup will offer a brief interlude for Pulis, who hails from Newport, and Swansea-born Coleman, who spoke about Sunderland being on “the edge of a cliff” at his unveiling in November.
It alluded to the club’s parlous position, with the fear among many being that it may get worse before it gets better, the Wearsiders currently propping up the table and with scant funds to use in this month’s transfer market.
Pulis’s issue is somewhat different as he seeks to prune a bloated squad and turn Boro into a tighter, more balanced and cohesive unit, which currently looks top-heavy in some areas.
Pulis, who will hold discussions with the Boro hierarchy next week regarding potential outgoings this month, said: “I think with the money that has been at this football club already this year, it would be disrespectful if I was just banging on the door already asking for more money, saying I want this player or that player.
“The first thing is to try to find a team that is really balanced on and off the ball that will enable us to win games and get up the table as far as we can.
“That does not come over a week or 10 days, that comes with time.”
On the subject of time, Pulis hopes that precious commodity is something that will also be given to his managerial counterpart today.
He sagely observed: “Chris did a fantastic job for Wales, the time he had there, the tournament in France (Euro 2016) was extraordinary.
“He is now at a great club, Sunderland is a great club. He will need time to sort that out. We all need a little time to sort our clubs out.”