Twelve months ago all the attention focused upon new Middlesbrough chief Tony Pulis, who took his place in the West Stand alongside Boro chairman Steve Gibson to watch the hosts’ 2-0 win over Bolton Wanderers.
The Welshman was brought in swiftly following the pre-Christmas sacking of Garry Monk, who was dramatically dismissed less than four hours after overseeing a victory at Sheffield Wednesday on December 23, 2017.
Fast-forward a year and all the chatter – certainly among the Owls fans who will congregate on Teesside – will revolve around another experienced figure ready to re-enter the management game in the shape of Steve Bruce.
The north-easterner is set to embark on his next managerial mission at Hillsborough shortly and just as Pulis predicted that he was not going to “turn water into wine” overnight at Boro, so Bruce is unlikely to make bold predictions when he is handed the Wednesday reins.
The 57-year-old will certainly have work to address after a troubling past few months for the Owls, who parted company with Jos Luhukay on Friday following a demoralising run of just one win in 10 matches.
Steve Agnew – Bruce’s assistant at Hull City and briefly Aston Villa – and coach Stephen Clemence saw Wednesday secure a much-needed 1-0 weekend victory over Preston for which Lee Bullen was in caretaker charge.
But the Owls, whose owner Dejphon Chansiri recently announced that he was putting the club up for sale, have plenty of work to do to get their season back on an even keel after a challenging time for staff and players.
The character of the club’s players has been called into question at various junctures with captain Tom Lees not immune from criticism in what has been a challenging season.
The 28-year-old admits he has learned to develop a “thick skin” to remain grounded, whether at the centre of praise or criticism.
One of Lees’s tougher moments arrived in the Owls’ 2-1 televised loss to Boro in the reverse fixture in mid-October – the start of their wretched run of form that culminated in Luhukay’s departure.
The defender gifted Boro the winning goal after a shocking back pass allowed Mo Besic to set up Britt Assombalonga to score.
Lees said: “I remember when I was younger taking every single thing to heart and thinking about it. You just have to be thick-skinned and believe in yourself.
“I cannot speak for anyone else, but you just have to believe in your ability.
“That is part of playing for a big club. You will not please everyone, but you have to have that confidence
“Unfortunately, like myself, I made a mistake last time and when you gift a goal you cannot afford to do that.
“But for large periods of that game we played really well, so have to take that into Boxing Day. We can be good enough to match them, and take that memory with us.”
Like Wednesday, Boro afforded themselves a spot of respite following a dispiriting run with a precious 1-0 weekend victory.
A late goal from George Friend earned the Teesside club three points at Reading, their first victory in six matches.
Pulis may not have found himself subject to quite the stinging levels of criticism that Luhukay encountered for significant parts of his tenure in charge, but in recent times he has had to take some flak from sections of the club’s support.
All the while Pulis has admirably maintained a valuable sense of perspective and calm.
Saturday’s win in Berkshire moved his side back up to fourth in the table and with festive home appointments against the struggling duo of Wednesday and Ipswich Town on the agenda, Boro have a good opportunity to get any disgruntled supporters back onside by the new year.
January also promises to be a key time for Boro, with Pulis targeting some pace and power up front to harden his side’s promotion credentials after a solid if unspectacular first half of 2018-19.
Pulis said: “It is my anniversary on Boxing Day. We got to the play-offs last season and I was really disappointed we never got to the final.
“But we are in the top four and the club has made a massive profit on the ins and outs, which was important as we spent a lot of money trying to get a team together who would walk this league (in the summer of 2017).
“That has had to be addressed. It is tough, hard and you have to take some stick at times.
“But all in all the club is in a better position financially off the pitch and on it; we need to improve and have to do that.”
Last six games: Middlesbrough DLDLLW Sheffield Wednesday LWLDLW.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).
Last time: Middlesbrough 0 Sheffield Wednesday 0; January 30, 2018; Championship.