6:00am Tuesday 11th March 2014
By Paul Fraser
DIMI KONSTANTOPOULOS has been told he could have a future at Middlesbrough beyond this season after impressing Aitor Karanka with his approach to life at the Riverside Stadium.
Konstantopoulos kept a clean sheet on his Championship debut for Boro against Ipswich Town on Saturday and he is due to start his third game for the club against Nottingham Forest tonight.
The 35-year-old has had to remain patient since signing a short-term contract in August, which he extended until the end of the season, but he has impressed Karanka and his backroom team with his attitude in training.
Shay Given’s recall to Aston Villa paved the way for a new face and then when Tomas Mejias broke a finger in training last week, Konstantopoulos was the man preferred to slot in between the posts.
While the situation has not helped Olympic goalkeeper Jason Steele’s hopes of making a quick return to the starting line-up, Konstantopoulos finally has the opportunity to prove he is worth his chance – and why he should stay beyond this season.
“The first thing I saw when I came in was that Dimi was third or four choice, yet he always worked in the same way,” said Karanka. “Whether he is fourth, second or first choice, he has been a very good professional. He has never said anything to me - even after Tomas played last weekend. He has always remained calm and relaxed. He is a good goalkeeper and I want good players.
“He obviously has a chance to stay with us because he knows that the players who train well and play well have a chance to stay in the team and stay here. He is a very professional player, our player and he is playing like a player I would like to keep in the squad.”
Since taking over from Tony Mowbray last October, Karanka has done his homework on all of his players and Konstantopoulos was no different. As well as looking at his career record, he put a call in to a former team-mate who had worked briefly with the towering Greek shot-stopper.
Konstantopoulos had a month at Swansea in 2008 working under Roberto Martinez and the Spaniard’s goalkeeper coach Inaki Bergara, who is now at Everton, was happy to relay his thoughts on the player to Karanka and Boro’s goalkeeper coach Leo Percovich.
“Dimi trained with a goalkeeper coach I know from Spain so I have had a chat about him,” said Karanka. “I have been very impressed with Dimi and I can see why people have liked him in their squad over the years. Inaki told me that Dimi was very professional and he would work hard every day for me in training. That’s what he has done.”
Former Hartlepool goalkeeper Konstantopoulos had seven years in the English game before returning to Greece to play for Kerkyra and then AEK Athens between 2010-13. He was keen to return to these shores, however, and has been focused on earning a new contract with Middlesbrough since.
His professionalism is a trait Karanka wants to see from all of his players and he has shown in recent weeks that he will be ruthless in his team selections if he thinks his demands are not being met on both the training ground and in matches.
Mustapha Carayol found out the hard way by being left out of the games with Leeds United and Sheffield United, with Karanka disappointed with the winger’s ‘attitude’.
Carayol returned to the fold on Saturday and turned in a man of the match display to help Middlesbrough end a run of seven matches without a win by defeating Ipswich Town 2-0.
And Carayol said: "Obviously I was disappointed to be left out. He's the manager and had his beliefs, and I had my own view of it, but that's in the past. I was just happy to be back on the pitch and to put in a good performance.
“Everyone knows how the manager works now and everyone knows you have to be on top of your game, no matter who you are. It keeps everyone on their toes and brings a healthy challenge for players. I'm easy with it. Hopefully I can just keep playing well and can stay in the team.”
Middlesbrough sit nine points shy of the play-off places with 12 matches remaining, so if they are to seal an unlikely top six place then they will have to avoid defeat against promotion-chasing Forest tonight.
Karanka said: “Forest are a very good team. They are not having a good moment after losing the last three games. In the last five games they have four defeats and one draw. They need points to get in the play-offs and they will know that on Tuesday. “We are not thinking about the play-offs. If we beat Nottingham Forest then we have another important game next Saturday at Bournemouth. They are tough games until the end.”
Middlesbrough will not have injured Jonathan Woodgate back and Karanka is in no rush. Defending has not been a problem for the side having conceded just two goals in the four matches since Given’s return to Villa.
Karanka said: “I am happy with how we are performing as a team defensively. The principle problems I found with the defence before I came was concentration. We felt at the beginning that players needed to know their responsibility. Players had to start to think that instead of having one responsibility, they had to remember that their responsibility was the team. Everyone has started to think like that.”
MIDDLESBROUGH: Konstantopoulos; Varga, Omeruo, Gibson, Friend; Chalobah, Leadbitter; Carayol, Tomlin, Ledesma; Graham.
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