Tony Pulis has paid tribute to Middlesbrough’s players for holding their nerve after a narrow 1-0 victory over Stoke earned a play-off spot once again.
Britt Assombalonga’s 14th goal of the season in the second minute was all that was required for Boro to see off a toothless Stoke, who missed a number of chances.
That victory lifted Middlesbrough up to sixth and above Bristol City again, although the Robins do still have a game in hand.
Nevertheless Middlesbrough are showing signs of improvement at just the right time because Assombalonga’s winner sealed a third straight win without conceding a goal.
That little burst of good form has been the perfect response to losing six in a row before that which ended with Middlesbrough dropping out of the top six – and well short of challenging for the top two.
Pulis said: “I’m pleased with the win. We’ve played much better than that and lost games at this place.
“If you look at the six games we lost, particularly the home games against Preston and Bristol City and the likes.
“We’ve not been as fluent today. To have five players missing from the backline that we started with at the beginning of the season, it takes a lot of courage and determination from the players to go out there and play the way they played.
“They’re having to do jobs they are not used to. Like I say, I think we’ve played better in other games than we have but we just haven’t taken our opportunities and chances.
“It’s all about results as a manager, if you don’t get results you don’t hang around long.”
Stoke, who had lost only one of their previous 11 before travelling to the Riverside, showed plenty of ambition and ability but were let down by missing numerous good chances.
And rather than dwell on the way Assombalonga coasted in to finish off Jonny Howson’s early cross inside two minutes, Potters boss Nathan Jones was more disappointed with the way his team failed to convert chances.
Stoke had 14 shots but only one on target and nothing materialised from their ten corners either.
Jones, whose side are 16th and comfortably above the relegation zone but well short of a play-off place, said: “The only two things I am disappointed with are the start and then the cutting edge. We haven’t taken one of the umpteen chances we had.
“What we lacked was the cutting edge, when we are scoring we are not keeping clean sheets, and when we don’t score we are keeping clean sheets. I can’t remember how many crosses we put in, shots we had, but only one on target and that’s the story.
“We try to be a positive side. I can’t back up the work we do, the attitude and mentality we have around the place. We lack a ruthless killer instinct about us.
“To be fair to Tony they had to grind it out and they did, but I can’t fault what we were doing. If we had taken 10 per cent of the opportunities we had then we would have won.
“To have nearly five times more shots than they did, 10 times more shots than they did, you can see why we are in the position we are in. It’s a big summer.
“For a side like Stoke to be in the position we are, we know it’s a big summer.”