BRITT ASSOMBALONGA has been told to show he has the character to overcome his struggles in front of goal by becoming a success story under Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis.

Boro’s leading scorer this season has only one goal to his credit since November 22 and is yet to find the net in 2018 - part of an eight-game run.

Assombalonga’s problems intensified last weekend when he blazed a penalty high over the bar in the final stages of the 2-1 victory over Reading at the Riverside.

Today, the 12-goal hit-man could be handed a starting spot at Cardiff City if Rudy Gestede does not recover from a back problem in time – and Pulis is desperate to see the £14m signing show what he is made of.

The straight-talking manager has asked Assombalonga to use Adama Traore’s upsurge in fortunes as inspiration, suggesting the Spaniard’s displays are proof of how quickly things can turnaround.

Pulis said: “We all have ups and downs, we all get knocked down so he has to get up off the canvas and start to throw punches again. We have helped Adama, given him stuff that he has not had before, but it is still Adama doing it. It’s still Britt that has to do it.

“He needs a performance, he’s been good this week, they all have. I will let you know in 15 games time if he can pull himself out of it. He has a lot of games to impress. He has time, he will have the opportunities and there’s no question of that.”

Pulis’ demands are different to those placed on the players by Garry Monk and have led to suggestions they have affected Assombalonga’s confidence.

The Middlesbrough boss said: “Britt’s form had dropped off just before I had come to the club. It was so disappointing for him to have missed that penalty last week. If that had gone in then it would have given him a lift. It could have set him off.”

Assombalonga’s only goal since November was on Boxing Day when Pulis was sat in the stands watching before officially taking over. He has had plenty of starts under his latest manager, and was keen to take the penalty which Grant Leadbitter would normally have taken last week.

Pulis said: “With the penalty, it wasn’t my decision. We hadn’t had a penalty at West Brom in a year so I had forgotten about delegating penalties to people! We hadn’t got one here either, although we should have in a couple of games.

“When we did get the penalty, Jonathan Woodgate said Grant takes the penalties … but that was sorted out on the pitch. When Britt picked the ball up though I was confident he would score, but, yes, it wasn’t a penalty I would like to see again!”

While the focus has turned on when Assombalonga will recapture his scoring touch – with a record over the last few years of scoring on average a goal every other game before his recent problems – there is no disguising who has become Boro's main man in the final third.

Traore is rightly getting the applause for his performances and the fact he has started to add goals and assists to his performances are putting him in the spotlight.

Pulis is already fully appreciative of the sort of player he has inherited and is fully focused on ensuring that he continues to develop and edge towards fulfilling his enormous potential.

“Adama has to make sure he keeps progressing and doing the things he has been,” said Pulis. “He is enjoying himself, walking around with a smile on his face.

“The players have got closer to him, he is a lot more outward going to what he was when I came in. He has the belief and he has been given an opportunity to do things that he wants, so you have to accept there are things he isn’t going to do or he needs to improve on because he is such an outstanding talent.

“He is the quickest off the mark I have ever worked with. I can’t remember anyone who can get the ball and be off the mark as quickly as Adama.

“There’s other parts of the game that really annoy me, it’s a gradual process with him. We are asking him to do what he does best. We are trying to encourage him but we don’t want to take away the good things he has because he has such natural talent and you just can’t buy that.”