TONY PULIS claims he “knows what is needed” to ensure Middlesbrough bounce back stronger next season after suffering play-off heartbreak against Aston Villa.

Boro were unable to overturn their first-leg deficit as they were held to a goalless draw at Villa Park last night, with their 1-0 aggregate defeat ensuring Villa will face Fulham in the play-off final at Wembley.

Despite enjoying plenty of possession for the second game in a row, Boro struggled to create clear-cut opportunities, with their best chance coming just a minute before the end as Stewart Downing curled a 20-yard free-kick against the crossbar.

Having been appointed to succeed Garry Monk in December, Pulis achieved his primary target of qualifying for the play-offs, but was unable to guide Boro back to the top-flight at the first time of asking following their relegation last summer.

He will attempt to improve his squad in the close season, and while he is adamant he will not be making excessive demands of chairman Steve Gibson, he knows what is needed to ensure his side are celebrating some promotion success in 12 months’ time.

“This is a fabulous football club,” said Pulis. “It’s a ‘to-do’ football club – everybody wants to help and try to get the football club going forward.

“I’ve been to clubs where it’s very insular, and people are looking after themselves and are not really worried about where the club goes as long as they’re okay. This club is not like that, this club is a real to do club.

“Everybody pushes and pulls in the right direction, so we’ve got a chance. What we have to do is put a team on the pitch that justifies the great support we’ve got, and the people who work at the club. The next task ahead is to see if we can improve it.

“I know what we need, and I know what’s necessary. It’s just a question of whether we can do it now. I won’t waste Steve’s money, I think he’s spent an absolute fortune. I won’t be wasting his money. If we can get better (players in), then we’ll get better. If we can’t, then the players have shown over the season that they’re close.”  

There was precious little to separate them from Villa over the two legs of the semi-final, but while Steve Bruce’s side took the best opportunity that came their way, with Mile Jedinak heading home from a corner on Saturday night, Boro failed to seriously test goalkeeper Sam Johnstone in either game.

They failed to record a single shot on target last night, a failing that has been their Achilles heel throughout the campaign.

“Over the two games, I think there’s been periods where we’ve been on top and dominant, but in those periods, we’ve not created the opportunities and the chances you need to win big games,” said Pulis. “Over the two legs, it’s been a set-piece that’s been the difference between us.

“We’ve got into two or three good positions, but not made the most of them. We’ve had opportunities, but we’ve got to turn those opportunities into chances, and turn those chances into goals.

“If you analyse the two games, we’ve had good spells, but we haven’t created enough chances, or taken the chances when we’ve created them. That’s the difference. Villa are a stubborn, well-organised, experienced team. It was always going to be tough, but the players have worked so hard over the two games. They’ve given absolutely everything.”

Pulis’ one criticism last night related to referee Mike Dean’s decision not to send off Johnstone when he handled the ball outside his area with two minutes remaining.

Adama Traore’s shot looked to be going in before Johnstone thrust out his hand to block it, and Pulis felt the goalkeeper should have been dismissed. “It’s a disappointing decision from what is one of our top officials,” he said.

To his credit, Bruce agreed. “If I’m being brutally honest, maybe the referee got that one wrong and it could have been a sending off,” said the Villa boss. “With two minutes to go, I don’t think it was an influence, but it could have been a red card.”

For the second game in a row, the quality of Villa’s defending was key, and Bruce was quick to pay credit to his side’s commitment and discipline as they successfully shut down the Boro attack.

“Defensively, that’s what has got us through,” he said. “I think they’ve had one shot on target in the two games. If there was any team that deserved to win, I thought it was us.

“Towards the end, when he (Downing) hits the crossbar, you think, ‘Dear oh dear, they can’t put me through that any more’. But I thought we handled it fantastically well. I’m delighted for everybody concerned, delighted we can plan for a trip to Wembley.”