MIDDLESBROUGH’S players have been turning up in fancy dress all in the name of team spirit to boost the promotion cause, and Tony Pulis wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pulis has been howling at some of the clobber his team members have turned up in over the last couple of weeks, and thinks the atmosphere in the camp, generated from Adam Clayton’s idea, has benefited.

Last week the squad had to turn up as different sportsmen and this week they have had to rock up to Rockliffe Park wearing terrible tracksuits.

Pulis will now hope Boro can see off Aston Villa this evening, victory that could see them reach the Championship summit.

“It’s been laughable, we’re getting that spirit. When I first came here I thought it was very divided at times. We’re starting to get close to what I’ve always wanted at all my clubs,” said Pulis.

“Yes, maybe one of two won’t buy into it or won’t see it as being for them but if you have a look at what they’re up to as a group, it’s fantastic.

“It’s been fabulous. They had to come in the worst tracksuit in the world on Wednesday to win it, the other day everybody had to turn up as a sportsman. So you had Marcus Tavernier turning up as a boxer, he had his headguard on and Lonsdale trainers. This is before training.

“They all had breakfast and lunch sat as tennis players, Ashley Fletcher turned up as a snooker player, George Friend was an All Black, Clayton was a cyclist. They had to pick the worst one and the worst one had to pay a fine. They did it again with tracksuits. It’s just for a laugh.”

Team spirit is a hugely important factor for any football team, but Pulis thinks it is crucial to a successful unit and has worked on improving that since walking through the Riverside Stadium doors on Boxing Day last year.

Yesterday former Stoke striker Dave Kitson described how Pulis wants a team ethic in his newspaper column, although the Middlesbrough manager is sure to be unhappy with some of his comments.

Kitson, who spent time at Boro on loan during the Gordon Strachan era, even alleged how he felt the upshot of Pulis’ energy in the build up to a meeting with rival Arsene Wenger was that Stoke’s players went over the top and “it cost Aaron Ramsey a year of his career” following a tackle from Ryan Shawcross.

Pulis had not read the article before his pre-match press conference at Rockliffe Park yesterday morning, so didn’t want to comment until he had read it properly.

Kitson’s words were part of a column designed to highlight how teams are direct reflection of their manager, while he also stated how “we never sat in a dressing room and said ‘we are going to injure this player of that player’.”

But Pulis does pride himself on forming a united group, having achieved that with Stoke, West Brom and Gillingham and he achieved success at all three. He even worked wonders during a brief period at Crystal Palace.

“I want my teams to be competitive and to really be together as a team,” said Pulis. “That’s the community I was brought up in – everybody helps everybody.

“If mum ran out of milk, she’d knock next door and next door would lend you half a bottle of milk knowing next day they’d give half a milk back.

“There was no ‘we’re going hungry’, everybody provided for everybody. That’s me as a ten or 11-year-old and it’s never left me. If you’re together as a group you can move mountains.

“It’s trying to get people to buy into it. It’s difficult today. They’re not allowed mobile phones in their canteens but I used to go in and see them and everyone is on their phone.

“The players who they’re relying on to get them out of trouble every now and again, and they’re not talking to them, they’re on their phones. It’s not about that. That has a place but it’s about people. Life is about people.

“You can’t, as a person, if you don’t move with the times you get left behind. There are certain things you have to accept that I don’t agree with but you have to accept.

“But there are other things where if you can get them to buy into, all of a sudden, they think there’s more than that (picks up phone) to life.

“Like I say, the crack they’d had the last ten days … laughing at each other, taking the mickey out of each other. Doing this, doing that, it’s absolutely fantastic.”

Speaking ahead of today’s visit of Villa, who staggeringly drew 5-5 with Aitor Karanka’s Nottingham Forest in midweek, he thinks there has been enormous progress in terms of what he has tried to do behind the scenes to bring the players closer together.

Pulis, who also had his players to Catterick Garrison during the international break, said: “This club is about the community. It’s been growing,

“I’m not saying it’s where I want it to be, you can’t do that after one season, but we’re getting to the point where people are dropping the shackles, releasing themselves a little bit or loosening up a little bit. We’re much more together as a group.”