HEAD COACH Aitor Karanka has labelled Middlesbrough’s Riverside meeting with Huddersfield Town this evening as the club’s biggest game since the Championship play-off final at Wembley last May.
Just under three weeks ago, Boro’s campaign was in danger of unravelling after a week of turmoil that saw the Teesside club lose games at strugglers Rotherham United and Charlton and Karanka have a major bust-up with some players amid speculation that he would leave.
Fences were somehow mended and Boro, having responded with victories over Hull City and QPR, find themselves back in the top two of the Championship ahead of tonight’s game with Town.
The match is the start of a run of three successive home games with Boro hosting Preston on Saturday before a rearranged home match with Reading next Tuesday.
Karanka, who reports a fully fit squad to choose from with Dani Ayala and Cristhian Stuani now available again, said: “For me Huddersfield is now as important as the game at Old Trafford or Wembley last season.
“They are another three massive points for us and every single game will be the same now until the end of the season. The only important thing is the next game. We have to forget what the opponent is because we need three points every single game.”
Tonight’s game is the second instalment in a tough White Rose triple-header for Town, who will welcome Hull City on Saturday.
But while head coach David Wagner is the first to acknowledge the extent of the task in hand against home specialists Boro on Teesside – where Town have not won since 1986 – he believes his side have a fighter’s chance.
In the reverse fixture, Town laid siege on harassed Boro in a thoroughly dominant first half, where the only thing missing was a goal, and the German has called on his side to be more clinical than they were in that unlucky 2-0 defeat, and also be resolute.
He said: “If we defend strongly, this will be the basis to be successful.
“Then I know we have the individual quality and the offensive idea to hurt them, but we have to be clinical in front of goal. I am sure we will get our chances.”
Last six games: Middlesbrough LWLLWW, Huddersfield LLWLWL.
Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).
Last time: Middlesbrough 2 Huddersfield 0; January 17, 2015; Championship.