AITOR KARANKA is desperate to keep Grant Leadbitter at the Riverside Stadium this month with Nottingham Forest plotting a fresh move for the Middlesbrough midfielder to boost their promotion push.
Forest tried on numerous occasions over the summer to land the former Sunderland man and their last offer is understood to have been worth somewhere in the region of £3m.
Despite a change of manager on Teesside since then, current boss Karanka shares a similar belief to predecessor Tony Mowbray in that he would prefer to keep a player with substantial Championship experience.
Leadbitter, 27, still has 18 months remaining on his contract he signed when he left Ipswich Town in May 2012 and he has enjoyed his time back in his native North-East.
The Sunderland-born midfielder is understood to be keen to stay and help Middlesbrough back to the Premier League, which was the target he and the club had when Mowbray convinced him to move north from Suffolk.
And Karanka – who yesterday gave right-back Justin Hoyte the go-ahead to turn his Millwall loan in to a permanent arrangement – wants to keep a player who has become a key member of his squad and has scored three goals from midfield under the Spaniard.
“It is 100 per cent that I would like to keep Grant,” said Karanka. “Grant is an important player for us. But I am the coach. Above me is the club. If they feel there is a very good offer for one player then we will always study the offers.
“But Grant is important for us. I like a lot of things about him. I like his personality, his quality. I like how he trains every day, a lot of things.”
Forest, on the look-out for a new midfielder given Nathaniel Chalobah is expected back at Chelsea when his loan to the City Ground expires on January 15, are unlikely to be put off and are ready to test Middlesbrough’s resolve.
Billy Davies, the Forest boss, started with Chalobah in the New Year’s Day draw at Reading, which maintained his side’s relatively strong position in the Championship’s play-off zone.
The 19-year-old has been one of the players mentioned as a possible arrival at Middlesbrough this month, while Nathan Ake and Patrick Bamford has also been talked about as other contenders to join from Stamford Bridge because of the manager’s links with Jose Mourinho.
Karanka said: “We are working on a lot of players. Just because I have a relationship with Jose, it is being said that I want 20 or more of his players. It’s not true, Chalobah. Chalobah is a very good player. We are working with Chelsea on players, but a number of other teams too, to try to improve our squad too.”
The Middlesbrough boss, whose side face Hull City in the FA Cup tomorrow, wants to add to his squad before the window shuts on January 31 and chairman Steve Gibson, together with advisor Peter Kenyon, is considering a number of options.
Karanka, who already has Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given’s loan signature sealed until February 28, said: “We are working but we need to have great confidence in any players that we bring in here.
“I am very happy with my squad and they are playing very well now. If someone comes here, they need to be better than what we have here.
“Adam Reach and Connor Ripley (Shrewsbury and Bradford respectively) are coming back from loans so we can look at those too. I have heard good things about them from the people here, so it will be nice to see what they can do.”
Middlesbrough are also aware of interest in Lukas Jutkiewicz from Blackburn, which could lead to a part-exchange offer including striker Ruben Rochina.
Whoever arrives over the next few weeks will provide extra strength in Middlesbrough’s attempts to close the gap on the play-off zone.
Despite missing an opportunity to reduce that further at Bolton on New Year’s Day, a four match unbeaten run has at least reduced the deficit to six points to sixth spot - a marked improvement from when he first took over.
Karanka said: “It was a good point because it is difficult. The most important thing is the last four games. It’s a big step forward and that’s the most important thing for me.
“I wasn’t happy to lose two points in the last minutes of the game at Bolton, but when you calm down you can see we have played better in the last few games. We have ten more points now and we need to continue this good work.
“I remember being three points from relegation when I took over and my thoughts, my approach, have not changed. I am always the same. The most important game is the Saturday game against Hull. I want to go through in the FA Cup and I will pick a team for that, then we will move on from there.”
* Season card holders are urged to snap up tickets for Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Hull City at special prices – but the deadline is 5pm today.
Card holders pay £10 adults, £7 Over-65s and £5 Under-18s throughout the stadium for the third round tie is purchased before that time. Afterwards they will revert to the price for all other supporters of £15 adults, £12 Over-65s and £10 Under-18s.
Tickets can be bought over the phone on 0844 499 1234. Should a replay be necessary it will take place at the KC Stadium on Tuesday, January 14 with a 7.45pm kick-off.