TONY PULIS admits he has been left scratching his head at Middlesbrough’s lack of success in front of goal since the turn of the year, but the Boro boss remains confident his strikers will spark back into life to reignite the club’s play-off push.

Pulis has presided over four home games since replacing Garry Monk in late December, and Boro have failed to score in all four of those matches. They also failed to find the target in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Norwich City, and while Pulis has been happy with the number of opportunities his side have been creating, he admits a collective failure to find the back of the net is a major concern.

All three of Boro’s frontline strikers are out of form, with Britt Assombalonga having failed to score since Boxing Day, Patrick Bamford boasting just one league goal in the whole of the season, and Rudy Gestede having failed to hit the target in the league since the middle of August.

An out-of-form Reading are the visitors to the Riverside this afternoon – Jaap Stam’s side have won just one of their last 11 league games – and Pulis accepts it is imperative his forwards rediscover their shooting boots in order to address the six-point gap currently separating Boro from the play-off spots.

“The performances have been good,” said the Middlesbrough manager, who can call on Gestede’s services this afternoon after the striker’s red card in last weekend’s defeat at Carrow Road was overturned on appeal. “I don’t think anybody can complain about the performances, but we have to win games. And to win games, you have to score goals.

“The biggest issue with us has been scoring goals. The last home game against Sheffield Wednesday, we had 26 or 27 shots, and double the corners and crosses of the opposition. When you’re doing that to a team, you expect to score goals, and the one major issue with the team at the moment is nothing other than the fact that we’ve not been taking chances. They’ve not been difficult chances at times either.

“I don’t think it’s a blip because it’s been going on for a while. We need a break as much as anything, we just need something to go for us. We’ve had the opportunities in front of goal, but we have to start taking them. I’ve been pleased with the back four, and I think the midfield have been creative enough, it’s just been that final third and the finishing of our players.”

Boro’s lack of goalscoring success is especially surprising given the pedigree of the forwards in Pulis’ squad. Despite scoring just once in the last 12 league games, Assombalonga remains joint-third on the list of top Championship goalscorers thanks to his exploits in the first half of the season.

Bamford cost Boro £6m when he signed from Chelsea in January 2017, and Gestede scored 20 goals in a single Championship season while he was playing for Blackburn Rovers.

Martin Braithwaite and Ashley Fletcher might have left on deadline day, with Boro losing out to Fulham as they mounted a late attempt to bring in Newcastle United’s Aleksandar Mitrovic on loan, but Pulis remains confident he boasts more than enough attacking options to ensure his side’s success in the remainder of the season.

“When you join the football club, you look at the players that are going to be available, and the one thing you think you’re not going to be short of is goals,” he said. “That’s the hardest thing to get your head around really, but if we weren’t creating the openings and the chances, that would be the worry.

“That’s when I would be sat here really, really concerned. We’ve got players who have a record that shows they can score goals at this level. What we need them to do now is start doing it for us.”

Pulis’ confidence in his strikers means there will be no knee-jerk reaction in terms of team selection for today’s game, although the Boro boss is likely to give at least two of his January signings a debut at some stage, with Mo Besic and Jack Harrison both now boasting a full week of training under their belt.

“We needed to have a look at them, and we’ll see for the weekend,” he said. “We’ve got one or two niggles, so we’ll see how they are in training. After training we’ll assess it, and we’ll go from there.

“It gives us some different options.  Jack looks as bright as a button, he’s just a little bit short of fitness. Besic is a good player and we need to get him in the team as quickly as we can, but we have to be patient to make sure he’s 100 per cent fit before he plays. We don’t want to be losing him.”

Like Boro, Reading started the season as one of the favourites for promotion after making it to the play-offs last May. Things have not gone to plan for the Royals though, and they travel to Teesside just six points clear of the bottom three.

“They’ve got some very good players there, and I don’t they’ve changed too much from the team that got them to the play-offs last year,” said Pulis. “It is a bit of a surprise (where they are in the table), but we’re expecting a tough game. We won’t take Reading lightly. We’re just hoping we can create the opportunities, and this time take the chances.”