DANIEL AYALA has been in sparkling goalscoring form under Tony Pulis – and the Middlesbrough centre-half is determined to maintain his successful run in front of goal.

Ayala has scored three goals in his last three matches, following up his brace in the New Year’s Day win over Preston with the opening strike in last weekend’s 3-0 victory at QPR.

Prior to his opening goal at Deepdale, Ayala had gone more than 15 months without a goal, with his last success having come in a 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace just four games into last season.

Admittedly, the Spaniard spent large chunks of last season on the substitutes’ bench, but his recent goal glut is still remarkable, and reflects the huge importance placed by Pulis on set-pieces.

The Boro boss has always prioritised set-piece drills on the training ground, and Ayala sees no reason why he cannot enjoy even more success in the opposition’s penalty area.

“I hope I can keep doing it,” said the defender, who has established himself as the first-choice partner for Ben Gibson at the heart of the Boro defence this season. “I always believe I can score goals, and with the new manager, the way we do it, I think I can score more.”

Ayala’s goalscoring form has been a bonus in the last few weeks, but the defender’s improved defensive displays have been even more important to Boro’s attempts to force their way back into the top six.

The Teessiders kept their first Championship clean sheet under Pulis as they won at Loftus Road last weekend, and will be looking for more of the same when they return to FA Cup duty against Premier League Brighton tomorrow.

“We’ve been working a lot on the shape, and I think it’s working really well,” said Ayala, in an interview with Middlesbrough's official website. “I hope we keep continuing keeping clean sheets, and move on up the league.

“I think he (Pulis) has been brilliant to be honest. I think we were unlucky in the games we lost 1-0 (to Fulham and Aston Villa). I think we should have beaten Fulham comfortably, but we didn’t take our chances and so we lost the game. But I think he has been really good, and I think we will improve as the season goes on.”

Securing an instant return to the Premier League is clearly the priority this season, but a cup run would nevertheless be welcome, with Boro having seen off North-East rivals Sunderland to book their place in the fourth round.

Towards the end of their spell in the Championship under Aitor Karanka, Boro developed a reputation as giant-killing specialists, winning at Manchester City in the FA Cup and knocking Manchester United out of the Capital One Cup on penalties.

Ayala played in both of those games, and with Brighton boss Chris Hughton set to make a host of changes tomorrow, the 27-year-old is hoping to be part of another successful upset.

“I have been lucky enough to play in those games, and they have been unbelievable for us, and for the fans,” he said. “Hopefully, we can repeat that, play against a big team, and beat them.”