AITOR KARANKA suggested that Friday’s transfer deadline activity may have distracted Middlesbrough’s players after his side laboured to a 0-0 draw at Doncaster Rovers.
Karanka had spoken about bringing his squad down to 21 or 22 players ahead of the deadline, and his wish was granted on a busy day at the club’s Rockliffe Park HQ.
But the Spaniard felt that it may have resulted in his players losing focus as an out-of-sorts Boro side could not get out of the blocks amid windy conditions at the Keepmoat Stadium.
“A point is not enough,” said Karanka, who was able to name Graham as a substitute after the club completed the paperwork in time for the Football League deadline.
“I don’t think we worked hard enough. I wanted more from the players. It’s a game we could have lost. We had two points from the last nine possible points - this way is not right for us.
“One month ago against Burnley, at the top at the time, we pressured, we fought, and in the last game we forgot everything. Maybe our players were distracted by the transfer window, thinking about other things. We need to go back to work.
“Now I have a squad with 21-22 players, I wanted that from the beginning, we need to recover now that the window is closed.
“I am pleased that one point is better than no points, but overall I am not happy because we did not play like this against Burnley or Reading. If we were like we were a month ago, we’d have won on Saturday.”
Middlesbrough sold 4,200 tickets in the away end on Saturday, and Karanka admitted he was embarrassed not to send them home with a victory.
“I didn’t understand it,” said Karanka. “If you have the fans that we had behind you, you need to fight, you need to play, and we didn’t fight, we didn’t play, and for this I said it was not a tactical problem, we played with the same shape, but we didn’t fight.
“It was difficult to play but Doncaster were better in their attitude. They won the second balls, they were quicker to the ball, they were better.
“We didn’t play, we didn’t fight. I was a bit embarrassed, we had 4,000 people from Middlesbrough, they are always with us, and we didn’t play, or fight.”
In the run-up to the game, Middlesbrough warned that there was a 'small question mark' over the condition of the Keepmoat Stadium pitch overnight, but the forecast rain did not materialise and it was the wind, not the rain, that caused problems for both sets of players in South Yorkshire.
In the first half, Doncaster, despite playing into the wall of wind, coped. Middlesbrough did not.
That said, there were few chances afforded to either side. James Coppinger headed wide after six minutes, which was Rovers’ only chance of any note.
Middlesbrough didn’t even have that, save for sporadic bursts forward from Mustapha Carayol and Grant Leadbitter that came to nothing.
The start of the second half was delayed after referee Andy Davies picked up an injury, leaving fourth official Mark Brown to step into the breach while a fourth official was sought from the crowd.
Jacob Butterfield clears the danger for Boro
Once the game got under way again, it brought the afternoon's first clear-cut chances. Firstly, Rovers' Mark Duffy brought a good save out of Shay Given at the near post, while, at the other end, Nathaniel Chalobah, on his first Boro start, found Carayol with a perfect pass, where the winger could only curl around the post.
Main headed into debutant Sam Johnstone's hands, before former Sunderland striker Chris Brown missed a simple tap-in from Sharp's cross when it seemed easier to score.
Main's miss summed up his afternoon in South Yorkshire, and on the hour mark, he made way for the player who will surely be Boro's first-choice striker in the second half of the season.
Graham's introduction prompted the 4,200 travelling Boro fans to sing “he's one of our own” with the striker making his first appearance in a Middlesbrough shirt since November 2006 - but fed off scraps throughout and could not make the difference.
Instead, it was the hosts who set up camp in Middlesbrough's half with the wind behind them, leaving the visitors unable to get forward.
Kei Kamara was introduced with 180 seconds left on the clock, and fired a shot just wide of the post after a powerful run down the left flank, while Brown's volley was blocked at the other end at the death.
Karanka, meanwhile, will not let another performance like this stand.
“I’ll be making changes,” he said. “It’s normal after a game where you’re not happy. We need to go again, work on our style, and hopefully we can see the team we did one month ago.”