MIDDLESBROUGH’S defensive record, as much as it is lauded, is scant consolation to Aitor Karanka when his side are not winning football matches.
After a 1-0 defeat to Brighton and Hove Albion at the Riverside Stadium in December, Karanka was furious with his players and insisted that the concession of stupid goals was to stop there and then.
Karanka’s words, although uttered in post-game anger, proved prescient, as Middlesbrough were to go on a fine run over Christmas, into the new year and out of the other side in fine form, claiming 11 clean sheets in the 16 games played since that Brighton defeat, conceding just seven goals.
But that is only part of the picture. Middlesbrough endured a seven-game run without scoring a league goal during that time, which has effectively spelled an end to the Teessiders’ challenge for the play-off places.
And Karanka believes, after Boro are unbeaten since losing at Sheffield Wednesday on March 1, that clean sheets and unbeaten runs mean nothing when the games are not being won.
“We have gone on a run without losing games but that is not enough for me,” said the Spaniard, who leads Boro out this afternoon against Queens Park Rangers. “I work to win the games. For someone it is good news that Middlesbrough are not losing games, but for me it’s not good news.
“For me, it’ll be good news when Middlesbrough are winning games.
“This is an opportunity for us, but QPR are one of the best teams in the Championship. They have the better players, they have one of the best coaches, they lost at Sheffield but it’s not going to be easy. If we think that we’re wrong.”
Karanka will see a familiar face in Harry Redknapp this afternoon. The Boro coach met his acquaintance while Redknapp was Tottenham manager, where Spurs travelled to Karanka’s old club Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League in 2011, and Karanka offered his full support to the Hoops manager after the one-time Championship pacesetters dropped to fourth in the table, ten points away from the automatic promotion positions with a 3-0 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday last weekend.
“I don’t think Harry is under pressure,” said Karanka. “I met him when Tottenham played Real Madrid in the Champions League. He and Jose [Mourinho] have a very good relationship. He has a lot of experience and he’s a very good manager. For him, it’s another game. He’s not under pressure.
“It’s a difficult game. QPR lost against Sheffield Wednesday and had a man sent off. But they are a team who played last season in the Premier League. They have very good players, a very experienced and good manager, and for this reason it will be a good game.
“When a team like QPR loses their last game before coming to us, it makes it difficult. If we think they’ll play the same way again, we’re wrong. We have to play QPR thinking that they are going to be fighting for the promotion positions.”
Lee Tomlin may be involved today, although he missed Thursday’s training session through illness, and Karanka feels his transfer deadline day signing from League One side Peterborough United needs time to settle into life as a Middlesbrough player.
“He’s training well,” said Karanka, of his attacking midfielder. “He’s improving every day for us. He is ill with a temperature so didn’t train earlier this week, but in the six weeks he has been here I am happy with his work.
“He knows our mentality, our way of work, and he’s better each day.
“It’s difficult when one player arrives at a team when there is a different mentality, different ambitions and targets. He needs to improve, and he knows that. The most important thing is his attitude and he’s working hard.
“For him it’s important to play, but he needs to understand that this is not League One. Here, it is more demanding, it’s a new world for him, so it will take time.”