MUSTAPHA CARAYOL’S impressive return to the Middlesbrough first-team comes as no surprise to Aitor Karanka, who is satisfied that his players have bought into his mentality since he took over as manager.
Karanka has not been afraid to make some tough calls after succeeding Tony Mowbray in November, with his message to the players that it is easy to play badly - but difficult to win your place back.
Carayol, alongside Jason Steele and Albert Adomah, has been a victim of Karanka’s ruthlessness, only returning to the side for the win over Ipswich Town a week ago, and keeping his place for the Nottingham Forest match three days later, in which he scored Boro’s goal in a 1-1 draw.
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Karanka picks the players who he feels has trained hardest during the week, regardless of stature or previous form, and Carayol was left out for the Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United games after the manager admitted he was not happy with the Gambian-born winger’s attitude after the 1-0 defeat at Watford on February 15.
But Karanka has welcomed Carayol back into the fold, knowing the forward is a matchwinner on his day.
“I’m happy because he’s playing well,” explained the Spaniard, ahead of today’s trip to AFC Bournemouth. “It’s nothing new for me how Muzzy can play. I’m very happy with him. His reaction last week has been good, I knew Muzzy when I arrived and I knew he could play like this.
“He needs to work in the same way. If he plays like he is playing now, he’ll be very important for the team.
“This is my mentality, it’s my philosophy. The players know me and they know how difficult it is to play for the team.
“We have 22-23 players, each player can play in two positions. They train very well, but they need to get better results.
“We deserve to have more points. If we score more goals then the little mistakes will not matter.”
Karanka takes his side to the Goldsands Stadium with four points from three games having seen Boro going more than 12 hours without scoring a goal prior to last weekend’s Ipswich win, but in Bournemouth Boro meet a side in fine form under manager Eddie Howe.
Victory for the visitors could see Boro in tenth place by the end of the day, but Karanka is expecting a stiff test on the south coast.
“It’ll be a tough game,” said Karanka. “Bournemouth have won three games in a row, they are a good team, a compact team, they play well and try to play the ball, and it will be a difficult game.
“We need to go there believing we can win. We need to work at 120% to get a result.”
If Boro can seal a win, a late charge on the play-offs could be on the card. Karanka has refused to entertain such talk, insisting that the next game is the most important one, and his message was a similar one in the run-up to today’s encounter.
“I don’t like to speak about the play-offs,” Karanka said. “We have 11 games untill the end, we have a lot of midweeks, we need to think about the next game rather than look too far forward.
“It’s always the same. It’s mathematically possible at this point. We will have chances. I prefer to think about the next game.
“We can’t look beyond this season because we have 11 games to the end. Until the last day, I will be thinking about this season.
“We will have time to think about next season later.
“The players know how important it is to win the games. We have 12 games until the end of the season, we need to win as many as possible.
Two players not involved today will be Lee Tomlin and Jonathan Woodgate, with Karanka preferring not to risk the pair as they make a recovery from ankle and calf injuries respectively.
Tomlin, a January signing from Peterborough United, has been rated as 50-50 by Karanka, but is keen not to rush him back from the injury which was sustained during Tuesday night’s home draw to Forest.
Karanka said: “Lee has trained. I don’t know whether he will be fit for Saturday, but we need to be calm with him. He is a player that arrived one month ago and he is understanding now our methodology, our training sessions, so we need to keep calm with him. I’m very happy with his work so far, so we have to keep working in the same way.”
Woodgate will likely make his return to the Boro line-up against Queens Park Rangers next Saturday, with Karanka saying: “I hope he will be fit for next week. He’s important for me, for the team. I don’t want to take risks with him, so I’m happy to wait one or two weeks. If he plays at the weekend he could be out for another two weeks so we have to be patient.”