GARRY MONK claims Middlesbrough have “struck the right balance” in their last three games, after admitting his side were not paying enough attention to their defensive responsibilities in some of their earlier outings.

The Teessiders are back in the play-off places after a run of three successive victories, with the most recent of those wins having come in Sunday’s Tees-Wear derby with Sunderland.

Monk’s side recorded their second clean sheet in the space of nine games against the Black Cats, and would have secured another shut-out against Hull five days earlier had Kamil Grosicki not scored a goal from nothing with a long-range shot in the Tigers’ 3-1 defeat.

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Whereas Monk appeared to be searching for the ideal balance between defence and attack in the first two months of the season, he has now settled on a system that enables Boro to be effective at both ends of the field.

Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson are forming a solid partnership at the heart of the back four, while Martin Braithwaite is proving a useful foil to Britt Assombalonga in attack.

In between, Jonny Howson and Grant Leadbitter are shoring up the central-midfield area while also looking to get forward to support their side’s attack, and whereas Boro lacked cohesion in their recent home defeats to Norwich and Cardiff, they now appear to have settled into a much more productive groove.

“We’ve done work since the very start on both sides of our play, but maybe the balance hasn’t been quite right and we’ve been focusing on the offensive a bit too much,” said Monk, who will return to his former home of Elland Road when Boro take on Leeds United in their first game after the international break.

“You can probably put the blame for that on myself. There were certain games where the balance wasn’t quite right, and that was difficult for us. I guess hindsight’s a wonderful thing, but it’s been about trying to rectify the balance, and I think we’ve got that right, especially in these last three games.

“The balance has been much better. The (Sunderland) game was never going to be an easy one, but I think you could see it’s much more where we wanted it. We know we have quality offensively, and we know we can defend as well. If we keep working on those things and improving them, that’s a big strength for us.”

Monk signed 11 players in the summer and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it has taken a couple of months for his new arrivals to properly bed in.

Assombalonga pretty much hit the ground running, but Howson now looks a completely different prospect to the early weeks of his Boro career and Braithwaite has come back extremely strongly after missing more than a month-and-a-half with an injured leg.

Darren Randolph and Cyrus Christie were two of Boro’s best performers at the weekend, and while a couple of this summer’s signings are still to live up to their billing, the majority are proving their worth.

“I’ve got complete trust in the players,” said Monk. “I see them every day, and I see the work they’re doing. It’s always difficult when you bring new players into the club, but we tried to recruit smartly. We know what they can do, and what they’re capable of.

“Some of them are young with potential, and some, like Jonny and Martin, are that bit more experienced. They’ve blended nicely with the guys who have already been here as well.

“That’s what I expect. They’re good players. At the start of the season, it’s always difficult to get fully up and running and right into your rhythm, and it’s especially difficult in this league because it doesn’t allow you that.

“You have to fight hard for that, but I think we’ve all seen the quality and commitment they have. That goes for the whole squad. It’s been difficult decisions right the way through, but especially this last week. It’s been so competitive in training, but that’s what you want.”

Dael Fry has been withdrawn from the England Under-21 squad for Friday’s European Championships qualifier with Ukraine because of the ankle injury that also kept him out of the squad for Boro’s weekend win over Sunderland.