When Garry Monk was fired as Middlesbrough manager before Christmas last year, after less than half a season in charge, few could have predicted what would happen during the rest of the campaign.
At the time Monk was relieved of his duties by Boro owner Steve Gibson the club were sitting outside the top 6 in mid table after a relatively modest performance in the League with a large squad being paid inflated wages.
When Tony Pulis became available following his departure from West Brom (which the Baggies likely regret to this day as they cling onto a slim chance of remaining in the Premier League) it turns out Boro pulled off what looks like a master-stroke when they hired him.
Pulis was hired and given a remit of carrying out a long-term plan to deliver Boro back to a sustained level of success in the Premier League with an instant return to the top tier not a absolute requirement.
So the new Boro boss was given the knowledge upfront that he would get time and patience to shape the squad and football club as a whole as he sees fit and Pulis responded by trimming the Boro payroll and squad in the transfer window before slowly zoning in on his preferred starting XI.
Clearly all at Boro would have been hoping for a swift return to the Premier League but many were expecting a year of consolidation following the departure of Aitor Karanka and relegation to the Championship but the Teesiders have surprised many by their sustained improvement over the 2nd half of the campaign.
Following Patrick Bamford’s late, late equaliser vs Ipswich Town in the weekend’s 2-2 last game of the season tie, Boro clinched 5th place in the Championship ahead of Derby County who would have finished 5th had Boro lost. So Pulis’ side will now be playing Aston Villa in the play-offs.
Boro face Steve Bruce’s Villa side at home on Saturday May 12th with the return coming 3 days later when they play again in the second leg at Villa Park on Tuesday.
Fulham will be facing Derby County in the other semi-final and they play on Friday May 11th and 3 days later on Monday and they will face the winner out of Boro and the Villa.
Such a strong performance under Pulis sees Middlesbrough with a good chance of getting back into the Premier League and the irony will be he may be returning to the League as his old club, West Brom could be going in the opposite direction.
While the Boro boss has said Aston Villa are “big favourites” he is likely just being canny and trying to take the pressure off his team and put it onto Steve Bruce and his men.
A win over Villa will see Boro play the most lucrative game in world football – the Championship final at Wembley Stadium.
Here’s hoping Boro can complete the dream.