AITOR KARANKA has warned his resurgent Middlesbrough side against complacency when they face Charlton Athletic today.
Boro have won four out of their last five Championship games and play Charlton on the back of a 2-0 win at Blackpool, while Athletic have not won since December 26 and sit three points off the drop zone.
But Karanka has reminded his players that they were in a similar position just a month ago - and that it is easier to lose games than it is to win them.
“Sometimes it’s a bit more difficult,” said Karanka when he was asked if his players are easier to deal with in winning form. “When your team win a lot of games, sometimes the atmosphere changes. Suddenly everyone’s happy, and they forget how difficult it is to win games.
“For this we need to work harder, because we know how difficult it is, and how easy it was to lose at the beginning.
“The confidence is much better but you can’t forget the philosophy that we bring. That is to train 100% every day, and for this we have to work the same way.
“Charlton is a difficult game, we can think that they’re not in a good moment, we can think it will easy, when we’d be wrong. We will go in against Charlton like we did against Burnley.
“It’s a difficult game because we haven’t lost in the league for a long time.
“Their results have not been good but we can’t be over-confident. If we go to the game thinking it’s easy, we’re wrong.”
Middlesbrough go into today’s game six points away from the play-off places, but Karanka prefers to concentrate on the next game rather than looking ahead too much.
“This is a game we need to win because it is the next one,” he said. “We are six behind the play-offs. You can see how difficult it is to get into that position, and I said the same when we were three points off the relegation positions - the most important game is the next one. If we are thinking about the play-offs, it is a mistake.
“We can’t think about points over the next month, or in the past, the most important game is Charlton. We know how difficult it was against Blackpool and we need to go into the next game with the same hunger.”
Karanka’s side have conceded just two goals in their last five games - both coming in the 2-2 draw at Bolton on New Year’s Day - and the Spaniard is impressed with the effort his defenders are putting in to keep the goals at bay.
“It is the most important thing for the confidence of the players,” explained Karanka. “They are very good defenders but they needed confidence. We are working with them, and they are better now because they are more confident.
“It’s a mix of things. A mix between everything, confidence, work, the whole package. When you are concentrating you don’t make mistakes, you don’t concede goals, your confidence improves and you play better.”
While defensively sound, Boro have looked a little toothless up front since the absence of Kei Kamara owing to a knee injury, but the Sierra Leone striker is pushing for a return having scored twice in the development squad’s 3-1 win against Arsenal in midweek.
“The most important thing a striker can do is score goals, for his confidence. He scored two this week and he’ll gain confidence from that,” said Karanka.
Mustapha Carayol is another player who bagged a brace in the last seven days, scoring both goals in Boro’s win at Bloomfield Road last week. But his heroics on the Fylde coast have not necessarily guaranteed his selection at the Riverside Stadium today.
“I don’t know, I haven’t decided yet,” said Karanka of Carayol. “I’m happy with his reaction. He wasn’t in the squad against Hull and his reaction to that was very good. His reaction on Sunday when we came in was good, he trained last week well and he scored two goals.”