TONY PULIS thinks Dael Fry has all the attributes to become one of the country’s finest defenders, but to fulfil his potential he has been challenged to find the defensive devil in him.

This has been Fry’s biggest season to date, appearing in 39 matches for Boro and he has rarely looked fazed by what he has faced even though he has had to play in a few different positions under Pulis.

The 21-year-old was again hugely impressive against Hull City on Saturday when he was often in the right place to help clear Middlesbrough’s lines as the Tigers went in search of an equaliser.

He finished the game at left-back, where he has played on occasions this season, and has looked comfortable across a back three and back four, and his performances for club and country have caught the eye of numerous Premier League clubs in recent years.

Pulis has loved working with Fry and believes the defender has what it takes to reach the top, provided he can develop a meaner side of his game to really take his talent to the next level.

“Dael has been brilliant in respect of him having to move around in different positions,” said Pulis. “The young lads – Marcus Tavernier, Ashley Fletcher and Lewis Wing as well – they have to take the bull by the horns a bit more, become more of a man in respect of becoming more of a leader.

“I have talked to Dael about it and I will continue that. It has to come from him. We have given him a chance and he has taken it. Ability-wise he has two great feet, he is quick, has all the tools and now he needs that devilment about him to get to that next level.”

Middlesbrough have been going through the process of examining how things are done at the club, from top to bottom, in the hope of improving fortunes for the longer term.

One aspect that has been talked about is getting more young players out playing football in order to help develop their talent, with Pulis one of those who believes not enough of them have spent time on loan.

The Middlesbrough manager is a firm believer in giving teenagers a taste of mixing with the first team set up and he has given Enes Mahmutovic, Nathan Wood, Nathan McGinley, Stephen Walker and Djed Spence first team outings this season.

Pulis said: “We have some very good young players here. We have given six debuts to kids this year. We have had the kids over regularly on a Tuesday and Thursday.

“The future is bright here for the kids. They have to be out playing league football. I think there is a good chance that in a few years you will have a base of players here that are very good.

“The academy is just a step, it’s not the be all and end all, it’s a step. I think people have got to understand it is not everything. Going out and playing at 17/18 is important too.

“The people here are first class, the recruitment has been good but they need to dip their toes in the water, and that’s not playing boys football until they are 23.

“Dipping their toe in the water is playing against men, whether that’s non-league or professionally. They have to do what Lewis Wing has done and then come back and grasped the nettle, shown he is good enough for this club.”

The number of youngsters who break on to the first team stage could well be determined by what division Middlesbrough are in next season.

Saturday’s 1-0 win over Hull has closed the gap to the play-off zone to a point but Bristol City, sitting above them, have a game in hand so remain in the box-seat to claim a top six spot come next month.

Middlesbrough face a crucial Easter period when the visit of Pulis’ former club Stoke City on Good Friday is followed by a trip to Nottingham Forest on Easter Monday. A failure to win those games could even result in Championship football being guaranteed for a further year.

There are ideas in mind for next season in terms of recruitment but the level of investment will be determined by what division they are, so claims that Middlesbrough are looking to sign Mo Besic on a permanent basis from Everton are premature.