7:00am Saturday 19th April 2014
By Paul Fraser
DURING the six months Aitor Karanka has been in charge, he has overseen 27 fixtures as Middlesbrough's head coach.
In a sign of the progress he thinks he has made since succeeding Tony Mowbray, the Spaniard feels there are only “three or four” games where he has been left frustrated by the team's performance.
There have been plenty of occasions when Karanka has wondered how to rectify the team's goalscoring problems or why he has been forced to chop and change his backline or goalkeeper because of injuries and suspensions.
He will, though, take great encouragement from his first season in charge when he considers the bigger picture regardless of whether Middlesbrough can secure an unlikely play-off place in the final few weeks of the campaign.
“For me it has been a very successful season already because I came here in November, with the players and the squad already in place,” said Karanka. “We played well in most of the 27 games.
“Imagine if we win the next four games and just miss out. With two more points against Nottingham Forest, Leeds United or Blackpool, just one or two more goals here and there, we could have been in there already.
“I think that shows the work I have done so far has been good. My experience from taking over in November, to be in this position now, that says it is a a very good season.
“I am looking forward to the summer already, thinking about next season. Next season could be even better because I will have worked from the beginning.”
That is not to suggest Karanka has already given up on a top six finish. Neither, however, is he sitting in the media suite at Rockliffe Park expecting a play-off finish if he can guide his side to another four wins.
If Middlesbrough were to win all four games against Millwall today, Reading on Tuesday and then dates with Barnsley and Yeovil, they would have set a new club record of eight successive wins in a row. Yet that might still not be enough to clinch a play-off battle in May.
If they can overcome the Lions today, the gap will be down to just four points ahead of the midweek trip to the seventh placed Royals.
Either way he will be satisfied, which is understandable considering that Middlesbrough would presently be ranked eighth in the Championship, two points off a top six berth, if the league had started when he took charge of his first game in November.
And that is despite a run of just one win in 12 games before this four-match winning sequence they have gone on since defeating Brighton on March 29.
“I am enjoying my time with my players, I understand our supporters starting to get excited about the play-offs but I need to be realistic,” said Karanka, who will recall Kenneth Omeruo to his defence today after suspension.
“It will be very difficult. We are going to play the remaining games to win. In football you never know, we are now in a good place and I am working to the next game. At the end of the season we can see where we are.
“The season is almost finished, we have a lot of injuries, little problems, we have 16-17 players to choose from, the most important thing for me is to have the supporters involved.
“The best way to respect the competition is to win every game, but you can see we have some good fixtures. We have three teams towards the bottom, but they are the most dangerous because they are trying to stay up. They need to win every game.”
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