AS one door closes, another opens. The challenge facing Britt Assombalonga is to walk straight through, grasp the opportunity in front of him and turn in a performance that can help Middlesbrough stay in a play-off place.

The club record buy’s last start was against Sunderland on February 24. Patrick Bamford’s enforced absence from the teamsheet at Derby County this afternoon, at the request of the doctor, means all eyes will centre on how Assombalonga performs at the top of the Boro system.

The £14m man has only scored one goal since Tony Pulis took over, and that was the equaliser at Burton at the beginning of the month.

He has looked a shadow of the player who started the season confidently, scoring 12 goals before the turn of the year that had him a contender for the Championship’s leading scorer.

There have, though, been signs recently that he is starting to get what Pulis is demanding from him – he could just do with finishing off a few of the chances he is being presented with.

The Middlesbrough manager said: “We need Britt to get a break, like Patrick had one. It’s all about confidence and I am sure he can go and get more and more.

“People say ‘Tony Pulis type of player’. I spent a record fee on a lad called Andy Hessenthaler when I was at Gillingham who was 5ft 2in. He was my type of player because he ran around every game and did his best for the team. He put the team first.

“I like that: those that give everything for the team, whether they are technically good or not so good. People like Adama Traore, is he my type of player? People said no, but he has been my type of player since I came here. That perception goes out of the window.

“This is a great opportunity for Britt, there will be no one keener than myself to see him pick the baton up and take us forward.

“I will have a couple of words with him but my thing is that the players are all gifted, so go enjoy it and work hard. They get rewarded unbelievably, so play with passion and commitment, then make sure you give it everything.”

With Rudy Gestede ruled out for the season and Bamford sidelined this weekend, Pulis has no choice but to field his only other striker option at Derby, where Middlesbrough are looking for a win that strengthens their grip on a play-off spot.

Bamford had established himself as first choice in that role by going on a run of nine goals in seven matches before then playing three without scoring. His fourth outing ended prematurely when he was knocked out under a challenge from Bristol City’s Aden Flint a week ago.

Pulis said: “Patrick was close to playing. Maybe on another occasion you would take a chance but the doctor feels as if he needs a couple more days.

“I got a phone call from the doc, who worked with him on Thursday. Although he has been with the lads in the dressing room, he has not trained with us, and the doctor felt it was right he had a few more days off.”

Bamford still turned up at Rockliffe Park yesterday to travel with the squad to support the team against his former club, Derby, who are looking for a win to swap places with the Teessiders.

Pulis, who revealed Stewart Downing and Ben Gibson are carrying knocks and not trained this week, said: “I should imagine he wanted to come. He is a Nottingham boy too. I have always encouraged the group to be together, to stay together. They have had a couple of nights out with their wives since I came in.

“That’s important and hopefully that will last for a long time. I have friends from my early playing days because that’s how we did it. We went out for dinner, took the wives and girlfriends out, that’s part and parcel of planting a seed and seeing it grow.”