AI-TORN KARANKA

Charl­ton fans plan fu­neral protest...

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By Clive Hether­ing­ton

AI­TOR Karanka’s Mid­dles­brough reign looks to be over – with Steve Agnew tak­ing charge for to­day’s pow­der-keg clash at rel­e­ga­tion­haunted Charl­ton Ath­letic.

Karanka’s fu­ture at Boro is in se­ri­ous doubt af­ter he stormed out of a meet­ing with his play­ers on Fri­day.

It is un­der­stood that ten­sions have been grow­ing be­hind the scenes at the club as Boro’s pro- mo­tion push has fal­tered.

As­sis­tant head coach Steve Agnew has taken charge of train­ing since Boro’s 1-0 de­feat at strug­gling Rother­ham on Tues­day night. Af­ter that de­feat, the 42-year-old said his play­ers didn’t have the same de­sire as the Millers.

The Spa­niard also ap­pears to have grown frus­trated at how long it has taken com­pa­triot Daniel Ayala to shrug off an an­kle in­jury he picked up last month.

It is be­lieved Karanka, who was Jose Mour­inho’s right­hand man with Real Madrid, re­turned to Boro’s train­ing ground yes­ter­day in an at­tempt to smooth things over.

But a state­ment from the club said: “Mid­dles­brough Foot­ball Club can con­firm that Ai­tor Karanka did not take train­ing on Satur­day morn­ing.

“As­sis­tant head coach Steve Agnew will take charge of the team for Sun­day’s fix­ture at Charl­ton Ath­letic.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate sup­port­ers will want to know fur­ther de­tails, but at this time the club can­not make any fur­ther com­ment and is solely fo­cused on Sun­day’s game at The Val­ley.’’

Karanka, who was ap­pointed in Novem­ber 2013, led Boro to a Wem­b­ley play-off fi­nal de­feat by Nor­wich last sea­son.

Boro have won just three of their last ten Cham­pi­onship matches. How­ever, they still lie se­cond in the ta­ble, seven points be­hind lead­ers Burn­ley with two games in hand.

At his pre-match press con­fer­ence on Thurs­day, Karanka laid bare his dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Boro’s big-money sign­ings, in par­tic­u­lar winger Ste­wart Down­ing.

The for­mer Eng­land winger, 31, re­joined his home­town club in a £5.5m move from West Ham last sum­mer to lead a fresh pro­mo­tion fight.

But Down­ing has been a sub in the last two games, and Karanka said: “I don’t want to fool you and tell you that he is do­ing re­ally well be­cause I think ev­ery­one was ex­pect­ing more from him.

“His num­bers are not the num­bers ev­ery­one was ex­pect­ing. But it’s a team and he knows no­body is more im­por­tant than the team. “So if the team wins pro­mo­tion – even with­out him at his best – he’s go­ing to be happy and I’m go­ing to be happy.’’

Karanka’s ab­sence adds ex­tra spice to to­day’s game against Charl­ton. Fu­ri­ous Ad­dicks fans are plan­ning to hold protests against the club’s Bel­gian own­ers.

FED-UP Charl­ton fans plan to stage a mock fu­neral pro­ces­sion ahead of kick-off against Mid­dles­brough to high­light their un­hap­pi­ness at how their club is be­ing run – and Boro aim to put the fi­nal nail in their Cham­pi­onship cof­fin.

The Coali­tion Against Roland Duchatelet (CARD), an um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion of Charl­ton fans’ groups, have lined up an af­ter­noon of protests. They are fu­ri­ous at how the club’s Bel­gian owner, Duchatelet, and chief ex­ec­u­tive Ka­trien Meire are run­ning the South Lon­don club, who are star­ing rel­e­ga­tion in the face, have a hap­haz­ard trans­fer pol­icy and change man­agers on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Duchatelet and Meire have de­fended their man­age­ment of the Ad­dicks, but it’s cut lit­tle ice with the sup­port­ers.

CARD have also asked fans to wear black and white, and to walk out of the ground af­ter 74 min­utes – the num­ber of goals con­ceded so far this sea­son.

A CARD spokesman said: “We are ask­ing the many dis­il­lu­sioned and an­gry fans who have been stay­ing away to come back on Sun­day and turn the af­ter­noon into the big­gest protest Charl­ton has ever seen, in­clud­ing when the old board took the club to Sel­hurst Park in 1985.

“In our view, the threat to Charl­ton’s fu­ture this time is just as real, and we will not let it carry on.”

Vis­i­tors Mid­dles­brough ar­rive with their own prob­lems – but with­out man­ager Ai­tor Karanka.

With Karanka ap­pear­ing to have fallen out with his play­ers, Boro have put as­sis­tant head coach Steve Agnew in charge for to­day’s match.

Boro have lost two of their last three games, in­clud­ing Tues­day’s 1-0 de­feat at strug­gling Rother­ham.

But mid­fielder Adam For­shaw be­lieves all the Charl­ton un­rest could play into their hands.

“If we can go there as a team and put in a good per­for­mance then hope­fully there will be a few cracks in Charl­ton,” said the 24-year-old, who was speak­ing be­fore the news about Karanka emerged.

And For­shaw wants to re­ward the Boro fans with three vi­tal points.

“Our fans have been fan­tas­tic this sea­son and were on Tues­day night, but, rightly so, they will be dis­ap­pointed if we don’t win games,” he said. “But it’s not through lack of try­ing. We’re work­ing our hard­est to get to where we want to be and we’re look­ing to put things right on Sun­day.

“We’re a close-knit team, we’ve got a great group here and ev­ery­one in­volved wants pro­mo­tion.”

For­shaw has started the last six matches in a row and is de­ter­mined to keep his place in the first team.

“It’s nice to get a run,” he said,“and now I want to try and stay in the team to help to push for the Premier League,” he added. Cap­tain Grant Lead­bit­ter missed the mid­week de­feat to Rother­ham with a ham­string in­jury, but is fit to re­turn at the Val­ley. De­fender Daniel Ayala (an­kle) is out.

For Charl­ton, striker Yaya Sanogo be­gins a three-game ban, but Harry Len­non is avail­able af­ter sus­pen­sion.

Alou Diarra, Chris Solly, Igor Ve­tokele, Pa­trick Bauer and Ahmed Kashi are all strug­gling with in­jury, while goal­keeper Stephen Hen­der­son is doubt­ful af­ter miss­ing the last two games with a dead leg.

Man­ager Jose Riga though, is hope­ful cap­tain John­nie Jack­son will be fit to re­turn. “John­nie is the one who can be back,” he con­firmed.“But no-one else.”

IN CHARGE: Steve Agnew

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

ON THE RUN: Boro’s Adam For­shaw in ac­tion against Wolves

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