‘Calmer’ Karanka has belief in Boro to succeed this time
Aitor Karanka, the Middlesbrough manager, has stressed that he is a lot “calmer” and more “confident” this time around as the Teeside club enter the final furlong of their quest to reach the Premier League.
Boro, who maintained their lead at the top of the Championship courtesy of two Jordan Rhodes goals – the second in stoppage time – against already relegated Bolton, are embroiled in a three-way fight with Burnley and Brighton for the two automatic promotion spots.
Middlesbrough travel to Turf Moor tomorrow for a potentially pivotal clash, finsinf themselves in a very similar position to last season, when they were competing with Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich. They were unable to stay the course and lost to Norwich in the play-off final at Wembley.
Karanka’s tenure at Middlesbrough had appeared to be at an end a little over a month ago. Inconsistent results and a row with players had led Middlesbrough’s Spanish manager to walk out of the training ground ahead of a defeat by Charlton Athletic. However, his restoration has coincided with six consecutive victories and a swelling belief that this time they will prevail.
“One month ago I wanted to leave, the players were a problem with me – this is the best example [of how things can change],” Karanka said.
“We lost games and they were games when we thought we were going to win easily. We made mistakes and lost those games. Now after Hull we knew that we were at the most important part of the season and that we needed to be ready.
“I am much calmer than last season because I have a much better squad than I had last season, they are more mature, stronger and the fixtures are better than we had last season.”
Bolton tested that renewal of confidence. Despite administering a first-half shellacking, Karanka’s team – who had turned a deficit into victory just once previously all campaign – trailed to Josh Vela’s 61st-minute goal.
Karanka added: “In the past when we conceded a goal, to come back was almost impossible but now, like Tuesday and today [Saturday], we can come back, which shows how strong and confident we are.
“I was calmer than when we played against Rotherham, Charlton or others in games because I know how strong and confident they are and how much they believe. We are here in this position playing as a team for a reason, we know playing in our way we can score at any time.”
Burnley stayed within two points of the league leaders with a 2-1 victory at Birmingham City. Striker Andre Gray’s 24th goal of the season won it late on for the Lancashire side after Birmingham’s Jacques Maghoma had cancelled out George Boyd’s opener.
The win stretched Burnley’s unbeaten run to 19 games and meant they remained two points ahead of Brighton in third.
“There is a great belief among the players and there is certainly energy and desire,” said Sean Dyche, the Burnley manager.