Final Score: Middlesbrough 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
NEW managers do not inspire miracles overnight, was a message inside Middlesbrough’s match day programme on Saturday.
And while no one will be getting carried away with Aitor Karanka’s first win as Middlesbrough boss, the victory over Bolton felt like a weight had been lifted from the Riverside Stadium. It was the real beginning of a new chapter on Teesside.
Last weekend’s defeat at Leeds United may have been Karanka’s first game, but the prospect of guiding his side out in front of an expectant crowd was what the Spaniard had really been waiting for, and with a little bit of luck, he got off on the right foot.
Karanka was paraded in front of the crowd moments before kick-off and he was given the most Spanish of welcomes with six thousand ‘Karanka-chiefs’ being waved in the air while ‘Viva Espana’ was played over the PA system.
A change in manager can often be synonymous with an upturn in form and Boro supporters will hope the win over the in-form Wanderers is the start of their team’s climb up the Championship even if the game had a distinctly familiar feel about it.
Like they did many times under Tony Mowbray, Boro struggled to break down their stubborn opponents at home and before Grant Leadbitter’s 82nd minute penalty you could forgive the Riverside crowd for thinking ‘here we go again’.
However, despite their best attempts to throw it away when Rhys Williams conceded a penalty three minutes from time, Jermaine Beckford’s awful miss ensured Karanka’s first managerial victory and a crowd of over 23,000 left the stadium in a jubilant mood.
It is, of course, early days in the Spaniard’s reign, but there are little signs of improvement already and the message coming out of the Riverside at the moment remains ‘patience’.
Karanka’s appointment is the most radical change chairman Steve Gibson has made in his time at the club and it would be silly to expect Jose Mourinho’s former number two to transform Mowbray’s strugglers into his own world beaters overnight.
It wasn’t the prettiest of performances by all accounts but a win in front of their biggest crowd of the season will be far more important in the weeks to come.
One player that will be part of that run is Shay Given, who signed on a one-month loan deal from Aston Villa on Thursday, and the experienced goalkeeper insists it will take time for Karanka to make his mark on Teesside.
“It takes time for players to get used to new methods and how he wants us to play,” said Given after recording a clean sheet on his debut. “It's not going to happen overnight, these things take time. There's good backroom staff, but there's nothing better than a huge victory to give everyone a lift and huge belief in what we're trying to do.”
For the first 80 minutes, Boro were frustrated by Dougie Freedman’s side, who like many other teams to visit the Riverside, arrived with a game plan to get as many men behind the ball as possible.
It made life very difficult for Boro, but even when they did break through there was a lack of cutting edge in the final third. The fact Leadbitter’s spot-kick was the Teessiders’ only shot on target in 90 minutes exposed a problem Karanka will have to address before Wednesday.
It is ironic that was the issue on Saturday given the fact Boro are the fourth highest scorers in the Championship this season, while clean sheets have been extremely hard to come by.
And had it not been for Beckford, who had missed two great chances early in the second half before his shocking penalty miss, the outcome would have been very different.
There were plenty of positives to take even if Boro just managed to scrape it with Richie Smallwood and Leadbitter both turning in impressive performances, while the back four – held together by Jonathan Woodgate – remained solid throughout.
Given rarely had a save to make on his first appearance since January and after making his 600th career club appearance the Republic of Ireland stopper admitted he was impressed by Boro’s defending.
He said: “Credit to them, I didn't have a lot to do. They were a great protection for me. I played with Woody at Newcastle and I think we have a good understanding, and hopefully my experience will help the younger lads as well.
“Woody's a Middlesbrough lad and he loves the club and he's made me feel really welcome over the last day or two, it's nice to see a friendly face.
“It was just a shame I couldn't save it (the penalty), I tried to put him off as best as I could! But you need a bit of luck as well. We're just delighted to get off to a winning start.
“I didn't even know about it being my 600th game. Someone told me on Friday, the guy from the website.
“I'd love to play a lot more games, to be honest, it's been a frustrating time. I'm delighted to make it at Middlesbrough and hopefully we can build on the result and have a good week, it'd be great to have three wins in a week.
“It would give the whole club a lift, around the training ground, so we want to build on it.”