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Tony Pulis has described Daniel James as “a special player” after the Swansea City winger made it a painful return over the border for Middlesbrough’s Welsh manager.
James was part of a Swansea side that tormented Boro and might easily have doubled the 3-1 scoreline that kept alive the Swans’ faint hopes of reaching the promotion play-offs.
For the second time in five days, James was too hot to handle as he continued his exceptional first full season for the club.
“I thought Swansea would cause us problems because their movement up front is very good and the kid out wide is a special player,” said Pulis.
It was an assessment that his opposite number Graham Potter would not argue with, as the player Leeds United tried to buy for £5m in January proved why he might fetch four times that amount if he leaves this summer.
James was substituted before the end but by then the 21-year-old had drawn the foul that led to Matt Grimes’ penalty and – along with the equally impressive Bersant Celina – been part of an attacking threat that had yielded further deserved goals for Wayne Routledge and Connor Roberts.
Potter said: “Dan is in that moment, isn’t he? It’s incredible, it’s his third match in a week and still he keeps sprinting.
“That was why we had to take him off towards the end, it’s a huge ask for him but he has such courage and quality.
“He and Bersant on the left were very impressive first half and part of an attacking unit with Wayne and Nathan that was dangerous on the break. It was a good afternoon.”
Potter watched his side tear Boro to bits in a dominant first half in which they scored twice, but should have really helped themselves to at least a couple more.
“Overall we completed controlled the game, we were the better team and deserved the win,” added Potter.
“I am very pleased, it is not easy to create chances or score against Middlesbrough with how they defend. They don’t concede many, and I thought some of our play was very exciting.
“We were excellent in the first half with our attacking play. We had a good understanding of what we were trying to do, we scored two good goals and probably could have added to that.
“Getting the third was important, you know you need it as they can put balls in the box and it is dangerous as it proved with their goal.
“It was more nervy than it needed to be at the end, but overall we completed controlled the game, we were the better team and deserved the win.
“It’s not easy when it’s your third game in a week so congratulations to the players. We looked fresh, we counter-pressed well, we had energy and I really enjoyed watching us play.”
After Ryan Shotton had brought down James for Grimes’ penalty, Routleldge steered home the second before half time with a low shot.
The second-half was less one-sided, but Roberts managed to wipe away the memory of a failed loan spell at Boro by making it 3-0.
By the time George Saville volleyed in a late reply for Boro, Pulis looked ready to get back over the border.
The Noewport-born boss sounded like a man already anticipating the worst when he admitted: “Out of all the games we had left this season this was the one I was more worried about than all the others.
“Don’t forget they were a Premier League side last season. But the players didn’t perform to the level they are capable of and they’ve got to be bigger and better than that.”
The defeat leaves Boro four points adrift of the play-offs with just six games remaining.
It sounds a bridgeable gap, but at the moment Swansea look more likely to make it as although they are five points worse off, they have momentum from six goals in back-to-back victories.
The Swans also have four of their remaining matches at home, where they have won their last four on the bounce.
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