TONY PULIS has warned Aston Villa they would be wrong to focus all their defensive attention on Adama Traore ahead of this evening’s play-off second leg, and is confident Middlesbrough boast sufficient attacking options to fire themselves to Wembley.

Boro head to Villa Park looking to overturn the one-goal deficit that was inflicted by Mile Jedinak’s first-half header at the Riverside on Saturday, and having successfully watched his defenders snuff out the Teessiders’ attacking threat at the weekend, Steve Bruce will be calling for more of the same tonight.

In the wake of his side’s first-leg win, Bruce freely admitted he had spent most of the previous week working on how to stop Traore, and with Alan Hutton and Robert Snodgrass regularly doubling up on the winger, Boro’s most creative asset was rendered utterly ineffective.

Pulis expects Villa to adopt a similar approach in tonight’s decider, but is confident he has come up with a plan that will enable Traore to break free of his opponents’ defensive shackles. And even if Traore finds himself surrounded by Villa shirts in the final third, the Boro boss will be urging his players to exploit the spaces that will be created elsewhere.

“I thought we created good opportunities from other people on Saturday, and that’s what we’ll have to do again,” said Pulis. “Adama’s a massive threat for anybody in this league, so it’s important that we get the ball out to him a little bit quicker than we did on Saturday.

“There were times when we could have got the ball to him quicker, but people had too many touches. That’s one of the things we’ve been speaking about.

“There were also occasions where Adama could have dropped the ball off or moved the ball quicker himself when he had people around him.

“There were two or three instances we looked at where if he had moved the ball quicker, there were other people in space, and those people are top players too. That would have given them the opportunity to have created chances, so he has to understand that and make the most of it.”

Traore’s most recent return to Villa Park did not go to plan when he was sent off after just four minutes of September’s goalless draw, but Pulis insists he has no concerns about the Spaniard’s temperament tonight.

Instead, he has been focusing his thoughts on how best to enhance his side’s attacking threat, and to that end, Patrick Bamford could well start ahead of Britt Assombalonga.

Assombalonga wasted three good first-half chances at the weekend, and his lack of movement made it easier for John Terry and James Chester to defend their 18-yard box. Bamford is more likely to pull Villa’s centre-halves out of position, and having come off the bench for the final 14 minutes of the first leg, the former Chelsea trainee is set to get the nod tonight.

“We’ll have a look at one or two things,” said Pulis. “We’ll look at whether we think we need to make changes, and whether it’s right to freshen things up a bit.”

Pulis’ other main selection dilemma comes at centre-half, with Daniel Ayala unlikely to be available after damaging his knee at the weekend. Ayala had a scan yesterday morning, and while Pulis is keen to give him every chance of lining up alongside Ben Gibson tonight, he is expected to miss out.

That will almost certainly mean Ryan Shotton playing at centre-half, with Fabio da Silva lining up at right-back, although Pulis could opt to start with Dael Fry.

“We’ll see what the scan says with Dani,” said the Boro boss. “If there’s any chance of him playing, he’s going to play.”

Villa will make it to Wembley if they avoid defeat tonight, but with the away-goals rule not applying in the play-offs, any Boro victory would at least take the tie into extra-time.

Since Pulis was appointed in late December, Boro have claimed away wins at Preston, QPR, Birmingham and Derby, and their counter-attacking style has often made them more of a threat on their travels.

Despite boasting a 1-0 lead, Villa are unlikely to be as defensive as they were in the second half of Saturday’s game, an approach that could play into Boro’s hands as they look to strike on the break.

Pulis expects his side to create chances tonight, but accepts they will have to display a clinical streak to ensure they make the most of them.

“We’ve played well up until the final third all season, and if there has been a little bit of a weakness, it’s been what we’ve been doing once we’ve got into that final third,” he said. “That might be putting the ball into the back of the net, or it might be finding that right pass after dominating possession.

“We know it’s going to be difficult at Villa Park – they’re going to have a full house behind them and it’s going to be a tough game. The most important thing is clearing the players’ minds, and making sure they’re focused and ready to go. They have to know their jobs, and make sure they do them.

“We have to have no inhibitions, and a clear view of what we’re trying to achieve. Then, we just have to go out there and really give it our best shot.”

Middlesbrough (probable, 4-1-4-1): Randolph; Fabio, Shotton, Gibson, Friend; Clayton; Traore, Howson, Besic, Downing; Bamford.