FOR the second year in succession, Middlesbrough face an opposing Huddersfield Town manager making his introduction to home supporters at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Last September it was Chris Powell, and now Aitor Karanka pits his wits against German rival David Wagner in his first home outing in charge of Town – and while the Boro head coach will be hoping for a replication of last season’s win, one thing is substantially different.
Namely, the unavailability of captain Grant Leadbitter, who struck twice – including a late penalty – in the Teessiders’ 2-1 victory in West Yorkshire.
Leadbitter also held his nerve from the spot at the death last week, converting a stoppage-time penalty to give Boro a flattering but crucial 1-0 Riverside victory over QPR – on a night when the hosts struggled to get out of second gear.
Today, they must make do without the suspended Leadbitter, labelled as a real leader this week by Karanka, who has admitted he would dearly love 25 players with the same character and application.
Leadbitter’s erstwhile central midfield partner, former Town enforcer Adam Clayton, is likely to be entrusted with an added sense of responsibility against his old club today in his absence.
While 18 places separate the sides, Karanka is reading nothing into that and is wary ahead of today’s trip.
He said: “It would be the biggest mistake to look at the table and think it will be an easy game.
“They lost at Sheffield Wednesday, but the first 70 minutes were really good. They have a new manager, David Wagner, on the bench, they’re in trouble and need points.
“But we have to think about ourselves. We have to play well and try to stop them, as Huddersfield will want to beat us from the first second.”