Leon Wobschall: The numbers game that brought an end to Aitor Karanka’s reign at Middlesbrough

GONE: Aitor Karanka. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA
GONE: Aitor Karanka. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA
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AS the saying goes, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

The numbers facing Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson when he contemplated whether to keep faith with Aitor Karanka or axe him this week will have been thoroughly damning - and ultimately crystallized his decision to dispense with the services of the Spaniard earlier today.

Karanka has presided over just four league wins in 31 games since April, while Boro’s last league victory arrived on December 17 - 10 games ago.

It was akin to the statistical malaise that afflicted Karanka’s predecessor Tony Mowbray ahead of his departure in the autumn of 2013.

Mowbray paid the price for a similar run of five victories in 33 league games and, just like with Karanka, the writing was on the wall after he lost the fans.

That came in a game at Oakwell in October 2013 and the beginning of the end for Karanka came when he was barracked with chants of ‘time to go home, Aitor’ after the recent wretched loss at Stoke.

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira.

Graphic: Graeme Bandeira.

Lose the support of away supporters who back their side through fair and foul every week and you are in big trouble.

In truth, Karanka had been under the pump for much of the past year, with the dramatic events which culminated in promotion at a never-to-be-forgotten May afternoon at the Riverside representing a rare joyous, but brief interlude.

Karanka’s upward graph at Boro started to slide late last winter and most especially last March when he publicly slammed the attitude of players following a shock defeat at Rotherham.

That was the point at which his fortunes began to unravel. Amid the fall-out of the Millers’ loss, Karanka had an altercation with some senior players in training - with reports of player unrest and dressing-room revolt surfacing.

Criticism aimed towards fans during the January home loss to West Ham saw him lose more friends, while his recent comments aimed towards Stewart Downing and Patrick Bamford had hinted that all was not cosy in the dressing room.

Leon Wobschall

The upshot in a mad March saw Karanka placed on ‘gardening leave’ after getting the weekend off for a game at Charlton - with the smart money of him leaving Teesside.

That actually happened, but almost exactly a year to the day from Gibson backing his man and telling him to carry on after crisis talks 12 months ago.

That was vindicated by Karanka taking Boro up amid a sea of emotion, but the pain has continued this season with the Teessiders unable to buy a goal, let alone a win at times, with Karanka’s playing style increasingly ridiculed.

During this time, the reservoir of goodwill from supporters towards Karanka has started to dry up and resembled a parched lake.

Criticism aimed towards fans during the January home loss to West Ham saw him lose more friends, while his recent comments aimed towards Stewart Downing and Patrick Bamford had hinted that all was not cosy in the dressing room.

His treatment of Jordan Rhodes was also used as a stick to beat him with by fans.

It remains to be seen if a change does the trick, with Boro in a massive hole and having their work cut out to beat the drop.

But Gibson and the Boro hierarchy will have no doubt spied improvements after changing managers at the likes of Hull, Leicester and Swansea and thought it was worth a roll of the dice in banking on a new manager ‘bounce’ to save the club’s season. There is not much else in their artillery.

With consecutive April games against the Swans, the Tigers and Burnley - and also encounters with Bournemouth and Sunderland before season’s end, all is not quite lost. Yet.