IT REMAINS to be seen whether Tony Pulis rewards Britt Assombalonga with a return to Middlesbrough’s starting line-up on Saturday – but his midweek Riverside cameo certainly did him no harm in the short or medium-term.
Boro’s record £15m signing has endured a bit of a rollercoaster time on Teesside so far, certainly under Pulis, but his goalscoring impact to seal the game late on in the 2-0 win against Bolton on Wednesday was not likely to have been lost upon his manager.
Assombalonga, left out of the starting line-up with Jordan Hugill starting up front, reacted to the demotion in the best way possible – with his stoppage-time strike being the cue to an animated celebration, by his standards, on the touchline by Pulis.
It was in marked contrast to another rather more infamous brief entrance from the bench from the striker in the 2-1 triumph over Reading in February, when he assumed responsibility for a penalty when regular taker Grant Leadbitter was on the pitch and promptly ballooned the effort into the North Stand.
His more fruitful contribution represented the perfect way to react to a spot of disappointment, as a shrewd managerial operator in Pulis will have duly noted.
“I have spoken to him about the group,” said Pulis. “It is a long season, it is not about the 11 players who should go out.
There is a good group there. They understand the way I want to run it and the way the club should be run in respect of the team and the squad. They are all very important members.Tony Pulis
“It will be about the other players the following week and the next one.
“There is a good group there. They understand the way I want to run it and the way the club should be run in respect of the team and the squad. They are all very important members.”
Boro may have found the net twice in midweek in a victorious cause, but Pulis elected to provide food for thought for his attacking and creative department after the final whistle.
The Teessiders’ defensive steel and resolve has been there for all to see virtually all season, with six clean sheets having already been registered.
Along with Yeovil, Boro’s concession of just three goals in eight league matches currently represents the joint best defensive record in the EFL, yet a lack of ruthlessness in the final third has prompted some constructive criticism on occasions from Pulis.
Assombalonga’s stoppage-time effort may have been well received, but Boro’s inability to seal victory earlier was something that Pulis felt was worthy of note.
Improvement on that count could well be timely in their latest Riverside test against a Swansea side who have been clinical in away victories at Sheffield United and Millwall.
On his perceived midweek criticism, Pulis added: “I was constructive and not critical, not negative. It is being constructive and saying we can do better.
“If we concentrate more then we will create and score more goals.”