6:00am Saturday 1st March 2014
By Richard Mason
AITOR KARANKA groaned when the subject of Middlesbrough’s goal drought was raised during his pre-match press conference this week.
The Spaniard is sick and tired of talking about goals, or indeed a lack thereof, during his briefings in recent weeks. The problem is the run has gone on so long - ten and a quarter hours, or 615 minutes, the longest run in their history - that scoring goals is the main topic of conversation at Rockliffe Park.
Karanka’s reluctance to discuss the problem is ignoring the elephant in the room. Maybe not an elephant, perhaps a mammoth.
It has been a calendar month since Middlesbrough scored. Emmanuel Ledesma with a speculative effort that may have had a slice of fortune as it was fired in from some distance and skidded off the turf as it evaded Charlton Athletic’s goalkeeper.
Boro fans would take one going into the back of the net off Danny Graham’s backside if it ends the hoodoo.
Karanka, perhaps admirably, has not panicked during this barren spell. He has not wavered from his 4-2-3-1 formation, he has not wobbled despite fans’ criticisms of him employing striker Curtis Main in a wide position.
And he feels that today’s trip to Sheffield Wednesday could be the day the drought ends.
“This is the situation we are in at this moment,” said the manager. “This week, we are more confident because of the way we played against Leeds was good for me. If we play in that way again we will win games. The players worked very well and I hope that this Saturday will be the day we score a goal.”
Karanka believes that Boro’s defensive errors which were ironed out before Christmas - they have conceded just one goal in open play in 467 minutes - do not necessarily mean that they have neglected their duties going forward.
“The two problems are different,” said the manager. “There were different mistakes in defence. Obviously all of those were concentration mistakes. Our team is now working very well at the back, not just the defenders. We’ve had to make changes but they are working well. We need to score goals and the team is working hard to do that.
“We played against Blackpool and Leeds the same way, the only difference was we didn’t score against Leeds yet we did against Blackpool. We had four or five chances.”
Karanka’s Boro were criticised by Steve Claridge on the Football League Show last weekend, but the former Real Madrid coach admitted that he doesn’t watch the show and that he wouldn’t understand what Claridge was saying anyway. Some of the show’s viewers would agree.
“Who is Steve? Is he a coach? I don’t know him,” said Karanka. “I don’t watch the show. I work in my own way. We arrived three months ago, and we are working well.
“The team are getting better, I’m happy with the direction we’re going in. We are working in the same way that we did one month ago when we beat Burnley and Reading.
“We don’t read anything, I don’t listen to anything, because I don’t understand - for me it is better. I am calm, trust in me 100%, I trust my staff 120% and I trust my players 200%.”
Karanka’s formation is fixed. The players within that system do not live such a charmed life - the Spaniard is yet to name an unchanged team in his reign thus far - and he does not plan on changing his side’s shape at Hillsborough today.
“We played against Watford for the last 15 minutes with three or four strikers,” he said. “I don’t think that the problem is down to us playing one rather than two. I believe in my system, I believe in my work. I make substitutions thinking to win the game, and we always think about that.”
Today’s opponents had an FA Cup fifth round replay against Charlton on Monday, and Karanka hopes that the extra 48 hours of recovery that Boro have enjoyed will play a pivotal role in South Yorkshire.
“They have had a lot of football to play, they’ve played already this week,” said Karanka, who will be without Dani Ayala who is expected to miss the next month. “They made changes so they’ll look different on Saturday. It will be a difficult game for us, they’re in the same position as us in the table and for this we need to play like we did against Leeds - but score.
“The message which I put across to the players after the last game was that if we play like we did then, and like we did against Blackpool, we will be all right. We need to keep working, to believe in our way and keep going.”
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