Middlesbrough v Accrington Stanley: I’ll never regret anything I say in defence of my players – Aitor Karanka

Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka.

Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka.

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VERY little in Middlesbrough head coach Aitor Karanka’s pre-match press conference this week had anything to do with today’s opponents Accrington Stanley.

This was not due to a lack of respect for the Lancastrian minnows, who turned over near-neighbours Burnley in the Capital One Cup at the start of the season and also provided West Ham with a distinctly uncomfortable evening en route to a narrow and cruel cup exit.

It was everything to do with the other matters to which Karanka has been attending this week.

Ructions with sections of the Riverside crowd and pressing transfer business have been the hot topics, setting the agenda for the press corps, whose sizeable gathering surprised the Spaniard.

The scenario could not have contrasted more markedly with the previous occasion that Boro were in fourth-round action, two years ago, with the build-up to an attractive-looking tie at another north-west side in Manchester City dominating the attentions of scribes as opposed to other issues.

It is perhaps just as well for Boro’s sake that Karanka is well used to being under intense scrutiny.

Some even venture that he likes it that way as it deflects the heat away from his players and enables him to set the agenda – a bit like his great mentor and friend, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.

It is a tactic that Karanka, criticized after taking a swipe at sections of Boro’s supporrt in their 3-1 Premier League loss to West Ham last weekend, also used after the poor home defeat to Watford in October.

Back in the autumn, he steadfastly stuck to his guns regarding a lack of deviation from a 4-2-3-1 system and invoked the ire of many supporters, who were hankering for two strikers to be utilised.

For the Middlesbrough head coach, backing down is not an option and if it means taking more flak from some doubters, then so be it.

It will not be lost upon many that Boro embarked on a strong six-match run to transform their season following that autumnal setback against Watford – a sequence that yielded just one defeat.

Following another potential watershed moment in their season against London visitors, Karanka will be desirous for something similar to follow, starting this afternoon.

Karanka said: “I have been just three years a coach, but I won’t ever regret something I have said to defend the players.

“The most important thing is that the people who are going to the stadium and who weren’t (here) last season and two seasons before, they have to know that we had a plan to get promotion.

“We got promotion and we have to play always in the same style. We have a style and that style has been successful for us.”

There has been no lack of confidence from the Accrington camp ahead of their side’s trip to Teesside with manager John Coleman and midfielder Romauld Boco having pledged that Stanley will be going all out to spring a cup upset, no doubt emboldened by their Capital One Cup exploits and the fact that they won on their only other previous visit to the Riverside, in August 2013.

Karanka himself is not treating Accrington lightly either.

He added: “They played a really good game against West Ham and we have to go onto the pitch knowing that it will be a very hard game.

“If we think we are just taking on a team who are midway down League Two, then we are making a big mistake.”

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