TONY PULIS has challenged Middlesbrough’s promising crop of youngsters to focus on improvement rather than materialistic rewards if they want to fulfil their potentials and reach the top.

Boro will head in to tonight’s Championship date with in-form Preston North End at the Riverside looking for the points that will boost their chances of a return to the top-flight.

Lewis Wing, Dael Fry and Marcus Tavernier are likely to be the young guns on show, while the experienced Stewart Downing is one of the most coveted to have emerged from the Middlesbrough ranks over the last 20 years.

The reputable production line is showing no signs of stopping either, highlighted by the fact Boro's Under-18s will face Manchester City in the Premier League Cup final tomorrow evening at the Riverside (7pm).

Pulis even requested the date was changed so he could go along to watch having taken an interest in the way team reached the last final courtesy of Terry Stephenson’s extra-time winner in the semi-final.

But after a year when he has shown great faith in handing Wing and Fry plenty first team action in the promotion race, Pulis has voiced concern that not enough clubs are doing things to protect young talent from having too much too soon.

The manager said: “They think this is normal, it's anything but normal and unfortunately they get into that bubble and they think, 'Give me, give me, give me'. Then you go to them and say, 'Give me something back'. And they ask, 'What do you mean, give me something back?'

“This happens at a lot of clubs now, they finish at whatever time and they are then off doing this, that and everything else that they shouldn't be.

“There's not many of them who go, 'well I've got an afternoon off so I'm going to go back, I want to work on my left foot, I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that.

“These people here are good, they get them in and they work them, they get them in and they work them. They have a better understanding, I think, of the mental attitude (that's required).

“The club is a good club, it's in a good area, it's in a working class area, there are a lot of chimney pots and a lot of poor people and that's what it's like in South Wales.

“If you talk to the big clubs in the world they are all going where poverty is to get the kids out of poverty so they are going South America, they are going to Africa they are going to Asia, they are looking to get kids who are hungry.

“What we've done in this football club is we've made them not hungry, we've fattened them up before they've even done anything.”

Pulis was keen not to have a go at his empire and suggested “this club is good compared to some” but he is worried that nationally a lot of that hunger is taken away too soon because of the rewards on offer.

During his 14 months in charge on Teesside he has overseen plenty of changes and he has been impressed by what academy manager Craig Liddle has been doing too.

Pulis said: “There are good people here and I think the longer you stay alive in this wonderful world of ours you recognise it's about good people, it's not about anything else, it's about having good people around you and good people with you and I think the academy have got some very good coaches.

“Lidds is a top man and there is a good understanding between everybody; the medical side, the academy, the first team and there's that togetherness that I didn't think was here when I first came in.

“I think it's getting stronger and by getting stronger that will give us a better opportunity, a better chance to bring (in) and to push the best kids through, which is important to me.”

While he is interested to see how the Under-18s handle the Manchester City occasion, he cannot be accused of ignoring the up-coming talent – something that has been thrown at him in the past.

Pulis said: “I think I've shown this year or over the 18 months that if I think the kids are good enough, they get a chance and that's what we have to do. There are some good kids coming here.

“The most important thing is ... I think there is a lot of people out there with lots of ability, the most important thing is recognising it's not just about ability.

“I think there was a great manager not so long ago who said, 'It's about 25 per cent ability and 75 per cent attitude'. That was one of the great managers. And what we've got to do is instil the fact that these kids understand how lucky they are and what they've got to do to get to being the best.

“It's not about going down the road and buying a brand new Mercedes and buying a four-bedroomed detached house, having this going on and that going on, it's about coming back in the afternoons and working hard at your trade and getting better and better and better. I think we're getting there.”

Boro's main goal is to return to the Premier League next season and for that to happen they can’t afford too many more slip-ups, with the gap to the automatic spots already huge.

Preston will arrive at the Riverside full of confidence after going ten matches unbeaten, while Boro don’t have any fresh problems to think about in terms of selection after Saturday’s defeat to Brentford.

Pulis said: “There are still things that have to be changed at the club. It's slowly, slowly but gradually, gradually, hopefully, improving everything at the club.

“I think there's definitely a different mentality in respect of where and how kids can benefit by going out and be part of other set-ups and then coming back here.

“There's certainly a bigger emphasis now on getting them to respect the fact that you have to be a 'man' to play proper football and the quicker you push them into being men - and not spoiling them time-after-time – the better it is (for them).

“I am going to go along and watch Thursday, and I think Steve (Gibson) is too. First and foremost we will be looking to get the win against Preston and then go there hopefully for the fans to have something extra to enjoy.”

Tickets for Thursday night are £3 adults and free for concessions. All season ticket holders can attend the final for free.