TONY PULIS admits Middlesbrough’s injury problems finally caught up with them as they crashed to a 3-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest, but the Boro boss insists his side can still recover to claim a play-off place despite having dropped out of the top six with two games to play.

Boro slumped to their joint-heaviest defeat of the season as Forest’s attacking players sliced them apart at will, with Joe Lolley scoring a goal in each half and Alexander Milosevic also firing home a fierce half-volley.

While promotion rivals Bristol City lost at Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County scored two stoppage-time goals to beat QPR 2-0 and climb to sixth position in the table, ahead of Boro on goal difference.

Both Derby and Bristol City have a game in hand on the Teessiders, so it is surely imperative that Boro take maximum points from their remaining matches against Reading and Rotherham United if they are to have any chance of scrambling back into the top six.

Pulis regards such a scenario as a viable possibility, but admits Boro’s defensive problems are proving increasingly hard to negate. Daniel Ayala, George Friend and Dael Fry have all been ruled out for the season through injury, forcing Pulis to play midfielders Paddy McNair, George Saville and Jonny Howson in his back five.

“We’re moving people around, and we’re having to try to put square pegs into round holes,” admitted Pulis. “It really caught us out today. We had a similar situation last week, but at home, maybe we can get away with it.

“But when you come to a place like this, you’ve got to be really solid. We’ve had to take players out of the team, and put in other players who aren’t able to do what they really want to. Jonny, Paddy and George all really want to be doing things going forward. It makes it really difficult for all of them.

“It was a disappointing display, but I think you’ve got to look at the injuries. Coming here with Ayala, Friend and Fry in your team, you’re going to be a lot more solid and together.”

Given that so many players are playing out of position, Pulis was reluctant to direct too much criticism at his defenders despite a succession of errors contributing to Boro’s downfall.

Instead, the Boro boss was more unhappy at the performance of his strikers, with neither Britt Assombalonga nor Ashley Fletcher able to hold up the ball and relieve the pressure that was building on the players behind them.

“We played with more forward-thinking players on the pitch than I’ve probably ever played with before,” he said. “So you want them to do a lot more going forward. When we had the ball, we didn’t do that either.

“I was concerned that there was no set-up. We didn’t get anything off anybody up front today. You need that. If you’re going to score goals, you need set-ups and people to hold the ball up. That didn’t happen. We’ve only got two recognised defenders on the pitch, the other eight outfield players are all forward-thinking players. But we lost out.”

Attention now switches to Saturday’s home game with Reading, a match Boro will almost certainly have to win if they are to have any chance of reclaiming a play-off place. Bristol City host Derby next weekend, and the pair will both play their respective game in hand between Boro’s matches against Reading and Rotherham.

“We’ve got to win the next game,” said Pulis. “Forget the Rotherham game, the next game is the Reading game and that’s a game we’ve got to win. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready.”