THEY might be taking on a side two places below them in the Championship table, but when Middlesbrough entertain Fulham this afternoon, Tony Pulis claims they will be encountering a club that are further along their development trajectory than the Teessiders.

Unlike Pulis, who only took over at the Riverside on Boxing Day, Slavisa Jokanovic has been in charge of Fulham since December 2015. He has experienced some notable highs and lows in that time, losing in the play-off semi-finals last season and suffering a series of explosive disagreements with the Cottagers’ board, but has steadily built one of the most accomplished squads in the Championship.

Loading article content

Fulham suffered a stuttering start to the current campaign, but have lost just one of their last six league matches, and Pulis expects this afternoon’s game to provide a strong indication of where Boro currently find themselves as they look to force their way back into the play-off positions.

“We’ve got a tough game with Fulham,” said the Middlesbrough manager. “They’re a good side. They’ve got an identity and a manager that’s been there for quite a while, so his footprint is firmly laid at that football club. The players will be used to what they do, and what he’s asking of them.

“They’ve got everything in place. They’ve got what he wants in place to be able to play the way he wants to play. When you get that, you’ve got a chance.

“He’s been there two or three years now, and that’s a good time to have been able to settle everything in to what you want and what you need to be successful. He’s a little bit further ahead than maybe we are at the moment.”

Whereas Jokanovic has spent more than two years drilling his players, Pulis has worked with the Boro squad for less than a month.

Stylistically, the Welshman is a world away from either Garry Monk, who preceded him, or Aitor Karanka, who ruled at the Riverside for three-and-a-half years, so it was always going to take time for his methods to seep through. Nevertheless, he has been extremely impressed with the way in which his players have reacted to his urgings this week.

“The first full week (of training) has been interesting,” he said. “We’ve done some different things with them. After a couple of weeks, we’re not going to know exactly what we’ve got and what we haven’t got, it takes time, one thing that football management maybe doesn’t give you.

“We need time to assess everything, but the biggest thing is that the players have really worked hard and seem to understand what we’re trying to do. Now, it’s just about putting those things in place and finding out if we have the right people to be able to do that.”

Pulis was paying special attention to training yesterday, with at least three senior players struggling with knocks that could keep them out of this afternoon’s game.

“We’ve got one or two knocks and niggles,” he said. “If the players are fit in training, they’ll play. But we’ve got one or two that might have to be on the bench, or might not make it.”