Spaniard has the club slowly climbing table
19 February ~ It's nearly four months since Aitor Karanka was appointed head coach of Middlesbrough but the signs are promising for a club that endured a horrendous 2013. Our league form for the calendar year under previous manager Tony Mowbray involved 19 defeats and just five wins from 33 games. We went from being in the hunt for automatic promotion at the start of the year to finishing just five points off the relegation zone. Had the 2012-13 campaign lasted another two or three weeks, we'd have gone down to the third-tier for only the third time in our history.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment about Mowbray's spell in charge of his hometown club was his inability to organise the team defensively. The number of times we were being carved open in games became a source of constant frustration and the uncertainty created by being so open at the back spread through not just the rest of the side but the supporters too. The summer rebuild offered some cause for optimism but the failure to address our defensive shortcomings ultimately cost Mowbray his job after yet another defeat on the road, this time at Barnsley.
With the local papers drawing attention to the fact that Peter Kenyon and Jorge "Super Agent" Mendes were attending most of our games – their unexplained involvement with the club remains a bone of contention among many fans – Karanka emerged as a possible successor to Mowbray. A former centre-half with Bilbao and Real Madrid, Karanka had been a coach at the Bernabéu under José Mourinho. Attracting someone of his stature seemed unlikely but chairman Steve Gibson managed to get the deal done, quite possibly with the help of Kenyon and Mendes. After a relatively timid start with three defeats in his first five games, Karanka has slowly taken us from relegation candidates to outside bets for the play-offs.
The new manager hasn't done anything particularly ground-breaking but he has established a solid defensive unit and required the team to play with much more urgency than they did under Mowbray. These subtle yet ruthless changes in approach have seen Boro record seven clean-sheets in our last ten league games and taken us steadily up the table, as well as bringing an end to the fans' anxiety whenever the team conceded a set-piece. It's still early days for Boro under Karanka but we can look towards the rest of the season with optimism. Dave Hearn