TONY PULIS admits Middlesbrough will have to raise their creativity levels if they are to return to winning ways when they host Bolton Wanderers tonight.

Boro have failed to score in either of their last two outings, and barely created a chance as they slipped to their first defeat of the season at Norwich City at the weekend.

Pulis accepts that “half-a-dozen” players were below their best at Carrow Road, with his side’s deficiencies most obvious in the attacking third.

The Boro boss could opt to make personnel changes tonight, with Martin Braithwaite and Jordan Hugill pushing for a starting spot after coming off the bench at Norwich and Rudy Gestede available after playing for more than an hour of Monday’s second-string win over West Brom.

However, Pulis claims a change of mind-set is more important, and will be urging his players to be more proactive as they look to attack a Bolton side that are bound to have been affected by their club’s flirtation with administration at the end of last week.

“It’ll be tough, and we’ll have to be patient,” said the Boro boss. “We’ll have to move the ball very quickly, and we need to get the ball around the final third a lot more than we did on Saturday. We need to create opportunities and chances.

“It was disappointing at Norwich. I think there were half-a-dozen of the players that were nowhere near the levels where they’ve been, and I think you’ve got to be honest and open about that.

“I thought in the first 20 minutes, we started fine, and then in the last 20 minutes we had a bit of a go, but apart from those little stages, the game was not what we’ve been about this year.”

Saturday’s defeat represented Boro’s first setback of the season, and Pulis admits it will be interesting to see how his players react to coming off the back of a loss.

Last term, the Teessiders’ resilience was one of their key strengths, enabling them to claim a place in the play-offs, and their performances in the opening six weeks of the current campaign suggest they are every bit as robust this term.

Their home displays have been especially impressive, with a resounding win over Sheffield United preceding more narrow victories over Birmingham City and West Brom, and Pulis was clearly prioritising experience and physical strength when he assembled his squad in the summer.

Those attributes have enabled Boro to make a strong start, but it will be important that Saturday’s defeat does not become anything more than a minor blip.

“You have to bounce back,” said Pulis. “You’ll get days like that, and we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go again. They’re (Bolton) unbeaten away from home, so it’s going to be a really, really tough game.

“We’ve played some really good football at home, and we’ve got to make sure we continue to do that and get the supporters behind us. We’re in a great position with 14 points from seven games, which is a fantastic return from the early part of the season. We’ve got to keep it going.”

In particular, Boro have to prove they will not be derailed by the first hint of negativity, and while their unbeaten record might have disappeared at the weekend, back-to-back home games against Bolton and Swansea City represent an ideal opportunity to steady the ship.

Bolton started the campaign reasonably strongly, but their form has tailed off markedly since the club’s off-field problems began to hog the headlines. Administration was avoided at the 11th hour last week, but Phil Parkinson’s side have picked up just one point from their last three games.

Boro’s problems pale in comparison, but Pulis has to prove he can strike the right balance between defence and attack. The Teessiders do not look like giving much away, but the fact they have only scored more than one goal in one of their last five games has to be something of a worry.

Britt Assombalonga’s place in the starting line-up is under threat, with Hugill and Gestede both pushing for a start, and while Pulis looks set to continue with his five-man defence, there is a need for Mo Besic and Jonny Howson to get on the front foot when Boro are trying to break teams down at the Riverside.

“The season is going to be up and down,” said Pulis. “It ebbs and flows, and you’ve got to stay as calm as you possibly can, keep your head, and make sure the lads are prepared for the next game.

“We’ll have good periods and we’ll have bad periods because there’s no team that will go through the season without having ups and downs.

“You might be very lucky and have £500m or £600m to spend, but if you’re a normal football club, you’ll have your ups and downs. We’ve just got to make sure we’re ready for Bolton because it’s not going to be an easy task.”

Middlesbrough (probable, 3-5-2): Randolph; Fry, Flint, Ayala; Shotton, Howson, Clayton, Besic, Friend; Braithwaite, Assombalonga.