BORO SHOW THEIR AMBITION
Karanka’s more gung-ho approach is paying off
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.”
OPENER: Albert Adomah celebrates his strike Inset, the winger slot home
TOUGH AT THE TOP: Grant Leadbitter challenges Thomas Ince