WHEN it comes to form defenders in the Championship, it is fair to say that Middlesbrough’s Dani Ayala is right up there.
The Spaniard, for the second season running, is proving the bedrock of a miserly Boro rearguard, who secured their seventh successive league clean sheet – equalling a club record in the process – in Monday’s 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday.
Boro’s vital defensive statistics are such that they have not conceded a league goal in over 10 and a half playing hours, while their back four have not been breached in the Championship at fortress Riverside since September 12.
It has helped provide the ideal platform for the Teessiders, who welcome Derby County in a huge top-of-the-table battle on Saturday at the Riverside, where Boro have shipped just two league goals this term.
Not for the first time this season, Ayala was outstanding at the back on Monday and is plainly in the form of his career.
But the 25-year-old insists that the defensive plaudits need to be shared – including in the direction of head coach Aitor Karanka, a centre-half with distinction from his time at Real Madrid.
He said: “When you play seven games and no one can score against you, it’s a big achievement. But picking up three points is the more important thing and, hopefully, we will be at the top of the table at the end of the season.
“There’s a lot of work behind the scenes and maybe people don’t see that.
“The midfielders and strikers all play their part in the clean sheets, which is quite unusual.
“Him (Karanka) being a defender means you are always expected to listen to him and I think that’s why we are doing pretty good.”
On his own role, Ayala added: “I don’t see myself as a leader as everyone talks to everyone, that’s the important thing. There’s a good group of boys and I think everyone does their job.”
Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal took heart from his side’s accomplished second-half display.
Angry that his side were forced to play for the second time in just over 48 hours when Boro went into the game after a nine-day break, Carvalhal said: “We are strong and in the competition and we will be good in the future.
“We have showed everybody that we are ready to make an impact.”