AITOR KARANKA has taken full advantage of being able to spend a week with his squad on the training ground, and the Boro boss hopes their efforts over the past seven days will pay off against Blackburn Rovers this afternoon.

The Teessiders welcome Gary Bowyer’s men to the Riverside looking to get back on track after a blip in form which has included a defeat and two draws.

Since the Spaniard was appointed last November, Boro have played a number of midweek games which have forced the team to adopt a bigger emphasis on rest and recovery rather than working on tactics and positional play.

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But Karanka feels this break in midweek games has come at the perfect time for his squad to iron out issues that have become apparent over recent weeks.

Scoring has been a big problem for the Teessiders and following the arrival on Danny Graham and Lee Tomlin, who still isn’t available due to suspension, Karanka has focused on his side’s attacking play this week.

“We have been working with our strikers,” Karanka revealed. “I’m happy because we could train with 21 players all week. I asked for this (a squad of 21) to be the case and I’m happy I have that size squad to work with.

“I’m happy that the transfer window has closed because I think we were a little bit distracted. It was my first transfer window and I’m happy because we have brought some players in and sent some on loan.

“You don’t often get a week to prepare. It is difficult, but for me this was a very important week because we lost a lot of points with two draws and a defeat and we need to recover our confidence and style.

“I know we have a stronger team than we had one month ago. The players that have arrived have improved the squad. The players that have gone out – I believe it is a better for them because they can play and get some experience. I am happy other than the results.

“It is important to make the most of having extra time with the players. When we have had midweek games we have tried to show them a lot of videos and presentations.

“When you can’t train on the pitch you need to teach the players in other ways. This week we have had a whole week to work and let’s see whether the work will pay off.”

Three games without a win has widened the gap between Boro and the play-offs to nine points and another disappointing result would make the mountain Karanka’s men are already climbing even higher.

However, the former Real Madrid assistant believes his side could still challenge for a top-six finish, but to do so they will have to put another unbeaten run together.

He said: “It is another opportunity. Every game you play you have one less opportunity to impress and we need to win.

“The three points is the most important thing, but we also want to thank the supporters because they were unbelievable at Doncaster. I think it was the best away following and we need to say thank you by winning at home.

“There is no reason why we can’t still make (the play-offs). We are nine points behind, but a few games ago we were only five points. It can change very quickly, but we have to keep winning games.

“The most important thing is for us to be in a position come March or April when we are still in with a chance. If you get to those months and are still far behind then it is very difficult.”

Karanka is almost two-and-a-half months into his reign on Teesside and despite admitting he is still getting to grips with the English game, Boro’s performances so far suggest they are in a good position to progress under the Spaniard.

He has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly on the field, but the Middlesbrough boss also revealed that something different surprises him everyday around the club, which has recently gained a furry mascot in the form of Holly the Hamster.

Karanka said: “I’m enjoying it and have ever since my first day here. The most important thing is the results. I was very happy when the scorers (Graham and Tomlin) arrived and happy with our business in January.

“It is always important to learn because everything is new to me and I am learning every day. We have three months until the end of the season to work with the squad that I wanted.

“Every day, there is something that surprises me, but everything is new to me so that’s normal.”