Karanka’s more gung-ho ap­proach is pay­ing off

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

WHEN Mid­dles­brough were crushed 3-0 by Hull at the start of Novem­ber, Ai­tor Karanka lam­basted his troops for a lack of am­bi­tion.

Staid and stut­ter­ing, hes­i­tant and hang­dog, the Teessiders didn’t look ca­pa­ble of mount­ing an at­tack, let alone a pro­mo­tion chal­lenge.

Yet two months, seven league wins and eight clean sheets later, the Spa­niard’s call to arms has been em­phat­i­cally an­swered.

Derby ar­rived for this top-of-ta­ble show­down boast­ing one de­feat in 19 games and fielded just about the strong­est XI avail­able to man­ager Paul Cle­ment.

Yet the Rams failed to muster a sin­gle gen­uine chance and, with a once-cau­tious Boro ex­hibit­ing new­found cav­a­lier ten­den­cies, quick-fire goals from Al­bert Adomah and Ge­orge Friend capped a richly de­served vic­tory.

“I said at the be­gin­ning of the game that it would be easy to go onto the pitch think­ing a draw is a good re­sult,” said an elated Karanka, whose side surged four points clear at the sum­mit of the Cham­pi­onship.

“But if you think like that, nor­mally you will lose. So I told them that we go out to win, to at­tack, to show no fear. They did that.It was a great per­for­mance and I am very proud.”

Boro’s play­ers fol­lowed those in­struc­tions to the let­ter. Whether it was the blis­ter­ing, barn­storm­ing ad­ven­ture of full-backs Emilio Nsue and Ge­orge Friend, the in­tel­li­gent prob­ing of Ste­wart Down­ing or the hel­ter-skel­ter run­ning of Al­bert Adomah, the home side ex­hib­ited a fear­less joie de vivre rarely seen in th­ese parts.

Kike’s shot was saved by Lee Grant, as was a Friend piledriver. Nsue, up from right-back, twice sneaked in round the back.

Derby – prob­a­bly an­tic­i­pat­ing more cau­tious op­po­nents – sim­ply never got started and, bar a 15minute flurry in which Johnny Rus­sell tested Dimi Kon­stan­topou­los, spent the match camped in their own half.

Chris Martin, top-scorer in each of the last two sea­sons, looks a shadow of the player who ter­rorised de­fend­ers last year while £6m man Tom Ince con­tin­ued his frus­trat­ing ten­dency to mix match-win­ning bril­liance with to­tal anonymity.

As Derby toiled, land­marks fell.

Kon­stan­topou­los keeps the num­ber of min­utes since he last con­ceded writ­ten on his arm and, by full time, that tally had risen to 727. A ninth con­sec­u­tive home clean sheet was also a club record.

“We are proud of the record but you can­not keep clean sheets with just a goal­keeper and four de­fend­ers,” added Karanka. “There are six more on the pitch, seven on the bench and some in the stand. It is a record for ev­ery­body.”

Paul Cle­ment, the man who suc­ceeded Karanka as Real Madrid’s No.2, hailed Boro’s per­for­mance as the best he’d wit­nessed this sea­son, but blamed his own bold­ness for de­feat af­ter sac­ri­fic­ing mid­fielder Ja­cob But­ter­field for for­ward Andi Weimann.

Cer­tainly the move opened gaps, one of which was ex­pertly found by Lead­bit­ter.The mid­fielder capped a flow­ing move by sliding in Adomah, who chipped a clever fin­ish be­yond Grant.

Derby were still reel­ing when Adomah broke again. The Ghana­ian in­ter­na­tional found Cristhian Stu­ani, whose blocked shot fell for­tu­itously to a just-about-on­side David Nu­gent.

The for­mer Le­ices­ter striker cut it back to Friend, who capped a fab­u­lous per­for­mance with a calm fin­ish.

“Mid­dles­brough played very well,” said Cle­ment. “I wouldn’t say they sur­prised us, but we cer­tainly weren’t at their level.

“The cru­cial thing for me was the change with 20 min­utes to go. I wanted to try and cre­ate a chance and it didn’t work. Very soon af­ter that they scored, and it was game over. I’ve got to hold my hands up for that.

“We could have just tried to main­tain it and come out with a 0-0 draw. On an­other day it might have worked, but hind­sight is a won­der­ful thing.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

OPENER: Al­bert Adomah cel­e­brates his strike Inset, the winger slot home

TOUGH AT THE TOP: Grant Lead­bit­ter chal­lenges Thomas Ince

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