After yet another disappointing season, Middlesbrough once again missed out on a place in the Playoffs. However with new manager, Aitor Karanka, beginning to turn things around at the Riverside there are reasons for the Boro faithful to be optimistic.
When Karanka was appointed in October of last year he took charge of a team whose confidence had hit rock bottom and whose defensive frailties were there for all to see. Initially success was hard to come by as Karanka set about trying to repair the defence. He set Middlesbrough up to stop conceding goals, and was successful, with Boro conceding the fewest goals in the League between the new manager arriving and the end of the season.
However, it appeared that changing the style of the team to become more defensively sound had restricted the attack. Boro went 7 games without scoring between January and March which ended any faint hopes of a surprise appearance in the playoffs. Danny Graham and Lee Tomlin were both brought in to help end the drought and eventually Karanka seemed to get the team set up the way he wanted, playing a 4-2-3-1 formation and using width to stretch opposing teams whilst using the midfield to cover for any gaps in defence.
The improvements that Karanka made throughout the year culminated in a terrific run to end the season. Boro won 6 of their last 8 games scoring 15 goals and conceding just 7. This included victories against promotion hopefuls Brighton, Derby and Burnley. Boro ended the season in 12th position and just 8 points off the top six. But more encouraging was the way the team was playing. The majority of successful teams in the Championship over the past few years have conceded very few goals. Being strong defensively is the starting point for any team looking to win promotion to the Premier League and Karanka seems to have identified that and set up his team accordingly.
The influence of Jose Mourinho is clear and after the impressive performances of Kenneth Omeruo and Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea loanees) there is a good chance that Karanka will be contacting his former Real Madrid colleague in the summer for further reinforcements.
Additions to the squad are needed, particularly in attack, but with some high quality signings and a full pre-season of training there is no reason why Karanka can’t lead Boro back to the big time, back to where they belong. UTB.