AS the Riverside Stadium curtain prepares to come down on Aitor Karanka's first season in frontline management, the Spaniard has no problem admitting that he has made mistakes.
Just days after accepting full responsibility for failing to motivate his players for the last two games with Millwall and Reading, he is looking to see a reaction for the final two games of the campaign with Barnsley and Yeovil Town.
Middlesbrough should, the league table suggests, defeat both. But given the disappointing and costly manner in which his team has started the previous two games, he is taking nothing for granted knowing the opposition will be aiming to turn in performances capable of beating the drop.
Boro, on the other hand, have nothing to play for other than professional pride.
Karanka will not settle for two performances that reflect their mid-table mediocrity and he will use the next seven days forming further opinions on the players he has at his disposal. It could be the difference between a player staying or going this summer.
“Saturday is a very important game for next season,” said Karanka. “I can see if we have learned from the last two games or whether we are just continuing in the same way. That is why it is important.
“If we can beat Barnsley in the way we have played many games at home I will be happy. I will be happy because I will be sure my players have learned. I could then look to the summer more positively.
“There is still time for players to impress me. They have another chance. I’m thinking about making changes because I want to test their mentality. I need to see how comfortable they are with what I am asking of them.”
Despite runs of form that have hinted at a possible play-off place by the end of the season, Middlesbrough have ultimately come up short. Given that he has only been in charge since early November, however, the Spaniard can’t be overly blamed. That will be different next time around.
He is, though, sure that the first six months of his time on Teesside will help him going forward, having never previously managed a professional team on his own before.
“Over the season I have made mistakes,” he said. “In January, for example, I spent a lot of time watching players for the January transfer window. I missed little things that I should have been concentrating on. That’s because I have never been a manager before. I now see the benefits in spending time doing the things that I should, I let others do the other things.
“We all need to learn for the future. We have to have a winning mentality. With a winning mentality, we could have won four or five more games and been in the play-offs. Instead we are down in 13th position. That is because of our mentality. We need to improve every day. I have learned every day and I need to learn more things.”
If Middlesbrough win their final two matches then they could end up tenth. That is still short of the play-off place chairman Steve Gibson had been hoping for at the start of the season when Tony Mowbray was in charge.
But Karanka is keen to sign off at the Riverside in style today against Barnsley.
He said: “If we can win these two games and climb I will go in to my holidays more positive. If we lose them both I will go away disappointed with myself. We have to have a very good mentality for next season.
“It‘s very important. It’s the last game of my first season at home. I want to thank our supporters in first person for their support for the team and to me. I have enjoyed my first season. I really hope we will have learned from the last two games because we can’t afford to make the same mistakes.
“Barnsley is a very similar game to Millwall last weekend. They are in the same position, so for this we need to give 100 per cent.
"The best way to respect the competition is to play 100 per cent to win the game. If you can’t win the game then it has to be because the team was better, not because they didn’t give 100 per cent. I don’t want to lose another game like we have the last two.”