Charlton fans plan funeral protest...
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
ON THE RUN: Boro’s Adam Forshaw in action against Wolves