FORMER Middlesbrough winger Albert Adomah helped to ensure that Tony Pulis’ reign at the Riverside Stadium got off to a frustrating start.

Pulis, who was only in the stands as an observer when Boro beat Bolton on Boxing Day, was left disappointed after ending the year with a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa.

It was the Villans who climbed level on points with a play-off place on an afternoon when Rob Snodgrass arrived at the back post to head in Adomah’s cross with quarter of an hour remaining.

Middlesbrough struggled to get going and didn’t do enough in the final third to threaten the Villa goal and paid the price courtesy of the header from Snodgrass, a former target of the Teessiders.

It was a very under-played introduction for Pulis to the Riverside crowd beforehand, only emerging to face the cameras as the game kicked off. There was no announcement as he took his place in the technical area and he was quick to make a statement with his selections.

Only naming regular Cyrus Christie on the bench allowed Ryan Shotton, who worked under Pulis at Stoke, to play right-back and inside two minutes he had sent over a long throw into the box.

Deliveries into the area were always going to be something Pulis would want to see from his team, particularly having included target-man Rudy Gestede in a two-man striker partnership with Britt Assombalonga.

But Aston Villa, without a win in five in December building up to this, were more than capable of causing problems and Rob Snodgrass was the only man on either side to record an effort on target in the opening 20 minutes.

Soon after that Assombalonga headed wide a Grant Leadbitter corner at the back post and that stemmed from another Shotton throw into the box that caused panic in the Villa defence.

Middlesbrough’s biggest weakness, much to the annoyance of Pulis, was a tendency for their defenders to gift possession away.

Shotton and Daniel Ayala had already done that when Ben Gibson followed their lead and gifted a chance to Adomah.

Goalkeeper Darren Randolph saved his low effort into him. With ten minutes remaining of the first half Jonny Howson struck a volley straight at goalkeeper Sam Johnstone after running on to Gestede’s knock down. That was Middlesbrough’s first effort on target and an animated Pulis was far from satisfied.

Other than that it was very tight and nothing to worry either goalkeeper before the break, so Pulis would have demanded more urgency in the play after the restart but it never arrived.

The nearest either side came to unlocking something was when James Chester headed onto the roof of the net when he met Conor Hourihane’s free-kick from the right, while Randolph got down well to turn a low drive from Jack Grealish behind for a corner.

Pulis’ first substitution was Adama Traore just before the hour. Within quarter of an hour he had made four exciting runs to lift the Riverside and one almost ended with Assombalonga and Howson scoring.

But it was Villa who finally struck. Sondgrass arrived at the back post to dive and head in a brilliant centre from the man who replaced Traore at Villa in August 2016, Adomah. Middlesbrough could find no way back.

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Downing, Leadbitter, Howson, Braithwaite (Traore 57); Gestede (Bamford 68), Assombalonga (Fletcher 79). Subs (not used): Konstantopoulos (gk), Christie, Guedioura, Baker.

ASTON VILLA (4-1-4-1): Johnstone; Elmohamady, Elphick, Chester, Hutton; Jedinak; Snodgrass, Onomah (Grealish 37), Hourihane, Adomah (Bjarnason 90); Hogan (Hepburn-Murphy 75). Subs (not used): Steer, Bree, Doyle-Hayes, O’Hare