STEVE AGNEW feels his players displayed the hunger and desire to keep Premier League football at the Riverside Stadium beyond this season despite a defeat which has left Middlesbrough facing a five point gap to safety.
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New head coach Agnew was heartened by the performance of his team and the supporters just four days after Aitor Karaka parted company with the club after a fractious period which led to his demise.
Jose Mourinho, the Spaniard’s close friend, claimed afterwards Middlesbrough should remember what Karanka achieved during his three-and-a-half years on Teesside and claimed he could have ‘left before to take over a bigger club’.
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But Agnew was keen to focus on the events of his first 90 minutes in charge. Even though Middlesbrough suffered a 3-1 defeat he saw enough to be encouraged by the battle to stay up this season.
He said: “I am a positive person. The performance was intense. It was everything in terms of commitment, we just have to start to win football matches. I have been in this league before and I know one win can change everything. I have every confidence and belief in what goes on behind the scenes here and that we are capable of winning matches.
“I was pleased. Their attitude and application, the intensity they played the game at was first class. To push Manchester United all the way, it was something I was really pleased with.
“At 2-0 down they showed the fighting spirit, they deserved their goal. The balance of play at the time I could only see us equalising. It was a hard third goal, but things like that can bring the group together.”
Agnew insists chairman Steve Gibson has said nothing more to him about the manager’s position and is focused on getting on with the job ahead of the trip to Swansea on April 1.
Speaking before the game, though, Gibson said: “Steve will have full autonomy as first team coach. I hope he’s here this time next year or the year after. He has a lot of qualities.
“He is a very good coach, a deep thinker, loads of experience, knows this club, is a man of integrity and the players trust and like him. I've known him a long, long time and he's a smashing lad. I think he can be the glue to unify us completely.”
Agnew would have liked to have won his first game. Instead a first half header from Marouane Fellaini was followed by a stunner from Jesse Lingard. Rudy Gestede’s goal gave Middlesbrough hope, but Antonio Valencia tapped in after a Victor Valdes slip to complete the win for Manchester United.
Agnew said: “It has not been a difficult period for me. It has been a whirlwind, I have enjoyed every minute of it. We are in in this industry not to lose football matches. I am not a particularly good loser. When I see a group of players and a stadium of supporters working together, it gives us optimism.
“I have not had a conversation with the chairman. All I can do is focus on Swansea and I have more time to think about it.”
Mourinho still thinks the way that Karanka’s reign ended was sad. He said: “Justice for Karanka is the work he did here. People cannot delete the good things we do in clubs.
“I was sacked by Chelsea, people now don’t like me but nobody can delete what I did.
“Aitor came here, they had 8-10,000 in the stadium and almost in League One, then he gets them to the play-off final, almost leaves the club, promotion, could leave the club for better, I know what I am saying.
“He stayed for the fans, for the owner, the players, he lost a good opportunity to go to a bigger club. I repeat I know what I am saying. In the end he loses his job. That is football.”
Middlesbrough will wait to hear whether referee Jonathan Moss includes a couple of incidents in his report that could lead to an investigation from the Football Association.
Both sets of players came together in the second half after Gestede and Eric Bailly got to grips with each other and there were suggestions of a bite. Replays suggested that was not the case. There were pictures of further clashes in the tunnel after the game too.
Agnew, who insisted Mourinho shook his hand afterwards, said: “I have been asked about the tunnel. I have not seen it. I am picking it up now that something might have happened. I don’t know. But this group of players are so determined to win matches. It is no concern to me.
“Initially it was just a group of players pushing and shoving. I have a group of well-behaved players. There will have been a reaction because of the spirit they have.”