GARRY MONK has warned his Middlesbrough players that they only have to look at Aston Villa for an idea of just how tough the Championship can be.

Boro are starting to find their feet in the second tier after last season’s relegation, climbing to sixth after Saturday’s 3-0 victory at Bolton.

It has not been straightforward for Monk’s side, though, with defeats at Wolves and Nottingham Forest in their opening six league matches – a clear sign that it is not a division to be taken lightly.

Loading article content

Tonight brings a trip to Aston Villa, now floundering in 18th place in the Championship.

Villa failed to make an immediate return to the top-flight last season, despite heavy investment following relegation, and manager Steve Bruce has had to battle on with a transfer budget that has been reduced significantly.

Bruce was under pressure after picking up just one point from their opening three matches, and successive draws against Bristol City and Brentford have hardly improved the mood.

Monk takes that as a sign that reputations count for nothing in the second tier – a lesson Boro must heed after spending large sums to try to secure promotion back to the Premier League.

The manager said: “That’s one of the things I said to this group straight away when I came in.

“Of course, there are a lot of them with good experience in the Championship, and they’re well aware of it.

“But there’s that reminder that this league is the most difficult in the world. The reason why is that it’s so competitive.

“There are so many teams who can compete at the high end of the table. You’re talking 12, 13, 14 teams at the start of each season who can realistically gain promotion. You name me any other league in the world that can do that.

“And every game is so competitive. You have to do a lot to win games. But it’s good. It’s exciting. It’s challenging. It’s an excellent league, and we enjoy it, but we take each game as it comes and improve on the least one.”

Monk has hard to work quickly to get Boro back on track following last season’s relegation, having been appointed in June.

He admitted that it has been a challenge to stabilise a club who ended last season without a permanent manager following Aitor Karanka’s dismissal in March.

Monk said: “It’s not been easy. There have been a lot of issues and a lot of things that you have to do that people don’t see.

“The people at the club have been excellent. They’ve really all understood what we’re trying to do, and that’s from the owner downwards. And everyone’s pulling in the right direction.

“We have a very committed group, and that environment is going to help us grow as a club, not just on the pitch, but off it as well. There’s still a lot of work to do, but the processes are in place.

“Of course, in football now, you have to try to accelerate it as quickly as possible, because of the results side of things. But if we can get the results as we go along while improving the things in the background, then that will be a real positive for this club.”