EVEN accounting for securing a commendable draw at Arsenal last week, the real stuff in many respects begins for Middlesbrough this afternoon.
Not that Aitor Karanka is staying anything less than calm, unflappable and typically resolute.
In his 150th match in charge of the club since being appointed as head coach almost three years ago, the Spaniard may be endeavouring to turn the tide somewhat with sections of the club’s fanbase casting aspersions about his credentials.
All told, Boro have won just once in their past 14 matches in all competitions and while the Teessiders delivered an obdurate and thoroughly well-organised performance at the Emirates seven days ago that bore all the hallmarks of the Karanka ethos, many among the Riverside Stadium faithful will be seeking plenty more besides today.
Boro have taken just one point from four home matches this season and are seeking to avoid a fourth successive Riverside reverse, not that Karanka is being shaken in his iron-clad resolve.
After taking flak ahead of the game at Arsenal, Karanka – not for the first time – closed ranks with his coaching staff and players and stouck to his guns as Boro chiselled out an excellent point.
On whether his belief in his methods and structures which have seen him rarely deviate from a 4-2-3-1 formation has ever wavered, he emphatically said: “No. Doubts? Never, because I trust myself a lot, I trust my players a lot and my staff, so when results are not coming, I know I have to change something.
“But it is not the same playing against Arsenal away and to play Bournemouth at home and to play Manchester City away. Every single team and every single game is different.
“But the plan is clear and the players know, especially the players who have been with me for the last three years, so we have to keep going.”
Boro and Bournemouth famously battled it out along with Watford and Norwich for automatic promotion in an intriguing Championship spectacle in 2014-15, with Karanka full of admiration for the job done by Eddie Howe.
The Cherries have consolidated and upgraded following their promotion to the top flight and in many ways represent a prototype for Boro to emulate.
An admiring Karanka said: “It is not a surprise for me because I really like Eddie.
“I met him during my first season here and the job he is doing there is amazing.”