IF it was just the results that were examined at the Riverside Stadium under Tony Pulis then three successive one-goal defeats for Middlesbrough would not tell the whole story.

For the third game in a row, after the reversals to Aston Villa and Fulham, Boro suffered late frustration on Teesside turf only this time the knock arrived in the FA Cup as Brighton progressed to the fifth round.

Losing in such a manner is clearly deflating and Pulis will hope to avoid a fourth when Championship football is back on the agenda against Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow night at the Riverside.

A FA Cup run would have been nice but promotion to the Premier League has been the main goal all season – and that hasn’t changed even if Pulis only took over on Boxing Day with Middlesbrough sitting outside of the top six.

But to just reflect on Saturday’s exit at the hands of Brighton as another defeat would be unfair. Middlesbrough, for the majority of the game anyway, looked more organised and passed the ball around better than their top-flight opponents.

For a side that leaked goals all too often under Garry Monk, Pulis has tightened things up and the confidence is flowing through the defence again.

What he must come up with is a way of getting his players creating more at the Riverside, having seen them score six goals in their last two away dates.

“It was very similar to the last home game where I think we created the chances first half and didn’t take them and then lady luck hasn’t shone on our side in the last couple of minutes and we have lost,” said Pulis.

“But there were a lot of positives to be taken. The one thing I do think is that we can get more crosses into the box and shots into the box instead of playing it square.

“We are playing with players who the club has invested a lot of money in to score goals and we have to give those players the ammunition to score goals.”

Middlesbrough were better in the first half. With Adama Traore continuing to shine on the right, and proving he can deliver good crosses too, Brighton were often on the back foot.

But after the restart, the longer the tie remained goalless, Pulis became more frustrated on the sidelines. He is not one to hide his feelings and he was regularly seen demanding more directness from Middlesbrough’s play.

There were times when Adam Clayton played a few balls in the final third sideways rather than look to get it into the channels or the box, while George Friend was singled out for occasionally going backwards instead of putting a ball into the channel.

It was not as if those were the only players being singled out, probably more to do with the fact they were near Pulis when they did it. Clearly, though, Pulis wants his team to move forward much quicker and isn’t a big fan of the patient build up.

And, having appeared to have sorted the defensive problems out, it is the final third where he will be focusing as he attempts to get Middlesbrough into the play-off places, starting against the Owls tomorrow.

“We have 18 games, fully focused on one thing now and that’s getting in the top six,” said Pulis. “Now we have to perform to a consistent level to take us there, have they got the consistency? They are a group of players I am still learning about. You mustn’t lose games.

“The squad is a little misplaced in the way it is balanced, we have to be lucky with injuries. Ayala has come off, if we were to lose another centre half we would be in trouble.

“It is a little imbalanced. But they are all working hard, they are a good group with good spirit. They are trying as a team which is the most important thing.”

Pulis is determined not to spend money this month, having reiterated once again that he respects how chairman Steve Gibson invested heavily in the squad during the summer – despite the imbalance.

He is looking to move a couple of players on before Wednesday’s transfer deadline and two of those could yet be Ashley Fletcher and Martin Braithwaite. Both forwards were given an outing against Brighton but neither saw beyond the hour.

Things have not gone to plan for Fletcher since his £6.5m arrival from West Ham and he looks like he has lost his confidence on the first team stage after starting just three times in the league.

He had a couple of half chances early on and looked hungry enough to impress, but was unable to lead the line like Pulis would have wanted. It would be a surprise to see him still at the Riverside beyond Wednesday, with Barnsley, Leeds and Sunderland among those keen.

Braithwaite also didn’t look like he had the spark of earlier in the campaign and is known to be frustrated, having spent the season not playing as the main striker and also losing his place. Bordeaux are keen to take him back to France, but Middlesbrough are unlikely to let a £9m man leave on loan.

But Pulis is getting good performances out of the players he has at his disposal, even if they might not suit his own preferences for the way he wants his team to play – and a cup win against Brighton could easily have been delivered.

Darren Randolph, the Middlesbrough keeper, made a couple of second half saves to deny Jiri Skalak and Beram Kayal. Both of those arrived in the same attack, and that was as close as they came throughout the afternoon until the late winner and there was nothing Randolph could have done about it.

When Markus Suttner’s cross from the left dropped in the box, Friend did what he needed to do and tried to volley clear with visiting players present. Despite getting a good connection, the ball ricochet off Glenn Murray before flying straight into the Middlesbrough net.

Middlesbrough didn’t test Brighton’s Tim Krul anywhere near enough either. However, the former Newcastle No 1 did make a brilliant save low to his left when he turned Traore’s first half strike against the post from 25 yards.

Traore, who is clearly enjoying himself after being given the freedom by Pulis, also had another effort from the edge of the area after the restart that shaved the side-netting; he had created that himself by cutting inside and beating two markers.

Clearly Middlesbrough can’t afford to lose many more home games 1-0, but Middlesbrough look like they are heading in the right direction under the experienced former West Brom boss – and he is not even bothered that the players aren’t his either.

Pulis said: “It doesn’t make a difference if they are my players, I have been to clubs before where they are not my players.

“The best teams are those I have left behind. West Brom, Stoke, Gillingham, all the teams I’ve left have been good teams. That’s when I have time to build. Hopefully when I leave this club it will be a good team. It’s me learning about these players, I still am.

“Justifiably the chairman needs to give these lads a chance and I hope and pray with a couple of additions loan-wise they will take us to where we want to get.”