TO the majority of Middlesbrough’s players, Tony Pulis’ training-ground methods could come as something of a surprise. To Ryan Shotton, however, they are merely what he has grown up with.

Boro’s players got their first taste of Pulis’ approach as they trained at Rockliffe Park on Wednesday, and the last two days have seen Boro’s new manager oversee the preparations for tomorrow's home game with Aston Villa.

In more than 1,000 games of senior management, Pulis has developed a reputation for being an extremely hard task master on the training ground. The 59-year-old spends a lot of time putting his players through a series of intensive drills, with a special focus on team shape and defensive organisation.

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Whereas Garry Monk was much less interested in repetitive sessions, Pulis’ meticulously-planned approach is more akin to the one adopted by Aitor Karanka, as Shotton knows only too well.

The centre-half was a product of Stoke’s academy system, and earned his first professional contract under Pulis in 2007. The pair worked together for the next eight years, with Pulis handing Shotton more than 70 senior appearances in a Stoke shirt, and the 29-year-old is confident Boro’s new manager will engineer the improvements that are required to take the club back into the Premier League at the first time of asking.

“I’ve spent a good few pre-seasons with him,” said Shotton, who is set to remain alongside Ben Gibson for tomorrow’s game with Villa. “He just demands 100 per cent hard work and fight, and he’ll bring this team together better than anybody I know.

“He doesn’t care about individuals, he’s all about the team. He knows that individuals become great if you have a good base of a team. He’s a very good man to work with.

“The lads have been asking me quite a lot. Before he even got appointed, when his name was mentioned, there were a few texts coming my way. Then we came into training, and it was, ‘Right, what’s he like, what’s he like?’

“I just said, ‘If you’re prepared to work hard, you’ll find him very easy to get on with’. I didn’t give too much away, but then he’s put his stamp on it himself and all the lads know now from the way we’ve trained.”

As well as hoping to witness a collective improvement under Pulis, Shotton will also be hoping his personal fortunes take a turn for the better under a manager that already knows him extremely well.

Having been signed from Birmingham City in the summer for around £2.5m, Shotton barely featured under Monk. He made his Middlesbrough debut in September’s 2-2 draw with Brentford, but was immediately axed for the following game against Barnsley and did not reappear until he was parachuted back into the team for Monk’s final game at Hillsborough.

He scored the winner in the 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, and impressed again on Tuesday as he contributed to a clean sheet against Bolton.

Pulis will spend the next couple of weeks assessing the capabilities of Daniel Ayala and Dael Fry, but having finally forced his way into the starting line-up in the last seven days, Shotton is not about to give up his first-team berth without an almighty fight.

“I spoke to Garry and he said he didn’t bring me here for the way things went,” said Shotton, in an interview with Middlesbrough's official website. “But Dael had been doing well, Dani had been working hard, and he wanted to stick with a back four that was consistent and resolute.

“I said, ‘That’s up to you. I feel I can give something’. The Brentford game wasn’t quite right. The team was up and down, I hadn’t played for three months, and it wasn’t great. But then when the chance came on Saturday, I said, ‘That’s it now. I’m taking this’. Hopefully, I’m not looking back now. With the new manager, I’ll be trying my best now to stay in the team.”

Collectively, the target over the next four-and-half-months will be promotion, and a win tomorrow would enable Boro to move closer to the play-off places ahead of a New Year’s Day trip to Preston.

Boro produced one of their best attacking displays of the season as they won at Hillsborough, and while the performance might not have been enough to keep Monk in a job, it nevertheless generated some much-needed momentum which was maintained by the win on Boxing Day.

Villa will provide a tough test despite their recent wobble, but with Pulis’ arrival having delivered a timely shot in the arm, Shotton insists it is a case of onwards and upwards in the second half of the season.

“The two wins in a row were massive for us,” he said. “The Boxing Day one could have been a slip up, it was a bit of a banana skin, but we stuck at it and kept the clean sheet, and we knew goals would come.

“With the new manager coming in, there’ll be a lot of hard work and togetherness, and more clean sheets hopefully. We haven’t had enough of them. We also want to stay in the top six

“That’s me thinking we’re looking up now. We’re not going backwards any more. Winning a game here and there and then losing a game isn’t the way a promotion team does it. We’ve got to push forward in the next five months and make sure we’re in the pot and up there by the end of May.”