7:00am Wednesday 1st January 2014
By Paul Fraser
MIDDLESBROUGH boss Aitor Karanka will concentrate on the transfer window once he has first-footed the New Year at Bolton today – but he does not want his players to fear forthcoming January arrivals.
In-form Boro head for Bolton with a big boost after striking a deal with Aston Villa which will see experienced goalkeeper Shay Given stay at the Riverside Stadium until February 28.
There were fears Given would return to Villa Park when a successful loan comes to an end at the Reebok Stadium today, but the Irishman has been happy to extend his stay despite apparent interest from Premier League club Swansea City.
The 37-year-old, however, knows he will be playing first team football with Middlesbrough, where Karanka can now spend the rest of the month focusing on strengthening other areas of his squad.
A three-match winning streak without conceding a goal – achieved for the first time since 2009 – over Christmas made sure a forgettable 2013 ended on a high for Middlesbrough.
The improved run of form has given everyone on Teesside a lift ahead of a month-long window when Karanka wants his own signings to add to the squad he inherited from Tony Mowbray.
After landing Given, the Spaniard is keen to bring in a number of outfield additions.
Karanka has seen enough of the men he has been working with to accept there is already plenty of talent at the Riverside and he is keen to build rather than rip it all up and start again.
The Middlesbrough head coach said: “I have trusted my squad in the beginning and I told them to trust me when I told them if I brought new players in it was because they were better players for the squad. I'm calm with my squad and hopefully we can bring in a few players.
“We do have confident players here at the minute. It would have been easy for me to say in the beginning that I didn't know the players and use that as a reason for not winning.
“But we feel like we are getting somewhere. I wanted to enjoy the third win in a row over Reading, think of the Bolton game then after that we will maybe think more of January.”
In the build up to his appointment in November, Karanka spent days watching DVDs of the players he was going to have at his disposal.
The initial phase of his reign was reliant on advice from Jamie Clapham and selecting players he had seen footage of both on screen and on the training ground.
But the likes of Emmanuel Ledesma, Jozsef Varga and Curtis Main have all benefited as the weeks have gone by and Karanka feels more could follow.
“I didn't know what everybody was capable of when I first came,” he said. “We had 27 players so it was difficult to know everybody. In the first week I saw what some players could do and found out little bits about others.
“Even now I am finding out new things about the players. What I always said though was that I expect good attitudes from the players and that's what I am getting from them. When I arrived, I knew maybe 14 or 15 of the players to pick from but now I know about 27 in my mind who I can use.”
Middlesbrough, without the suspended Dean Whitehead, head to Bolton today aware of an unwanted record of winning just one away game on New Year's Day in 114 years.
In the last two seasons Boro have started January with a defeat which set the tone for a dreadful slump which saw Mowbray's team drop out of promotion contention. Karanka will hope for the reverse effect.
He said: “Consistency is what we have needed. It was difficult in the beginning because not everyone felt like they had a chance to play, so when I tried little things players might have felt that I was leaving them out or whatever.
“Now there seems a better understanding of what I am doing. They all know that they have a chance. If one week there is a player on the bench, the next he might play. That's good for us. That's what is important for us. The players can go away from the training ground feeling like they can play.”
Bolton, one of the early season favourites for a top six spot, are suffering from their own fall-out after relegation from the Premier League.
Since dropping out of the top-flight in 2012, the club's debt has risen to £163.8m after making a loss of £50.7m for the year up to June 2013.
Bolton's huge losses have been recorded despite a £17.9m decrease in their wage bill, mainly down to relegation clauses in contracts and player departures. Bolton's wage bill, however, is still more than £32m and one of the highest in the Championship.
In a statement issued by chairman Phil Gartside, he explained how there has had to be a reality-check at the Reebok Stadium after 11 years of Premier League football.
Gartside said: "Looking forward we have to recognise we are no longer a Premier League club in the Championship, but a Championship club with ambitions to play in the Premier League; a stark reality of the financial rules now imposed.”
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-2-3-1): Given; Varga, Woodgate, Ayala, Friend; Smallwood, Leadbitter; Ledesma, Emnes, Adomah; Jutkiewicz.
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