Middlesbrough v Aston Villa: Old foes lock horns again

IT is a case of deja vu, somewhat, for new Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis this afternoon '“ and how he will be hoping for a similar outcome at counterpart Steve Bruce's expense.

Tony Pulis: Middlesbrough's new manager.

In his previous post at West Bromwich, Pulis’s first official appointment in charge of a Baggies’ league match was against a side managed by Bruce, in the shape of Hull City on January 10, 2015.

A late strike from Saido Berahino enabled Pulis and the Baggies to start off with a victory in a game that had plenty of significance in the fight against relegation from the Premier League.

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Now Pulis and Bruce lock horns again in a match of seminal importance in their clubs’ battle to make the play-offs in the Championship. The two heavyweight outfits are under a welter of pressure in their bid to return to the top flight.

The respect between the vastly-experienced managerial duo is plentiful, with Pulis backing Bruce’s claims to be ‘Premier League Manager of the Year’ in 2013-14 after Hull survived in the top flight and reached the FA Cup final.

That, of course, was the season in which Pulis claimed the accolade himself after rescuing Crystal Palace from the bottom three and guiding the Eagles to 11th.

Goodwill is likely to be thrown out of the window this afternoon, with Bruce under scrutiny after a run of five matches without a win and Pulis mindful of the imperative need to build momentum and make a positive first impression with Boro supporters in his initial match in the dug-out.

Ryan Shotton, who worked under Pulis at Stoke, is backing the Boro chief to bring a strong togetherness to the side.

He said: “I have spent a good few pre-seasons with Tony. He just demands 100 per cent, hard work and fight.

“He will bring this team together better than anybody I know.”