GEORGE FRIEND has described how Middlesbrough’s focus during the international break will centre on returning to action in style – unlike the last time.

When Boro last emerged from the September fortnight an eight-match unbeaten start to the campaign came to an end with a defeat at struggling Norwich City.

Even though Middlesbrough have only lost once since, that loss to the Canaries has affected their flow.

Tony Pulis’ side only won one game in September, drawing the other three, and then after hitting October with a strong victory and performance at Ipswich they lost to Aitor Karanka’s Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

That run of results has seen Boro drop to fourth, three points behind new leaders Sheffield United.

That means the Teessiders can’t really afford to repeat such form after this international break and the majority of the time before the trip to Sheffield Wednesday a week on Friday will be geared towards trying to avoid another slip-up.

Friend said: “We’re back at it and working hard and the manager sees it as a chance to really push on physically and keep those high levels of fitness up because we worked so hard in pre-season and we don’t want to let those drop.

“I think we want to bounce back better for the Sheffield Wednesday game better than we did at Norwich after the last internationals. That will be the focus.”

Friend and the non-internationals in the squad were given some time off at the start of the week, with Pulis keen to give his players time to refresh after the defeat to Forest.

But there are five key members of the first team squad who have gone away. Mo Besic (Bosnia), Martin Braithwaite (Denmark), Darren Randolph (Ireland), George Saville and Paddy McNair (both Northern Ireland) are on international duty.

Younger players Bilal Brahimi (France U19), Dael Fry (England U21), Marcus Tavernier (England U20), Stephen Walker (England U19) and Nathan Wood (England U17) have all had call-ups so are away from Rockliffe Park.

But Pulis will not allow the list of absentees to detract from what he wants to do on the training ground before the trip to Hillsborough – even if some of the messages will be saved until the rest of the squad is back.

“The manager manages to get shape work in there. He’s very good because he wants everyone to understand it anyway,” said Friend.

“It is a good thing physically to get going but tactically you might have to wait until the whole team are back before you can work on specifics. Everyone needs to know what is going on.”

Friend has been criticised by Forest’s title-winning former Scotland international Kenny Burns after the weekend meeting.

Burns singled out the full-back’s collision with Michael Dawson in the first half which ended with the Forest man having to walk off the pitch after treatment. He also felt that Boro, overall, did not play as he had expected.

“It was a naughty challenge on him from George Friend,” Burns wrote in his Nottingham Post column. “Dawson looked pretty shaken by it and it meant he had to come off in the first half.

“I was amazed the referee didn’t even give a foul against Friend, but then I didn’t think much of the official’s performance in general on Saturday.

“Some of his decisions were ridiculous, but I also didn’t expect Middlesbrough to be as dirty as they were. I was very, very surprised about that.”

Boro will head to Sheffield Wednesday hoping that there will be no after affects from the international games on those involved.

Pulis has criticised the scheduling of matches, feeling that it is unfair to expect players to return from duty with their country and perform at their peaks on a Friday – a day before other Championship and Premier League clubs.