MIDDLESBROUGH’S players have seen plenty of the ball this pre-season – and George Friend feels the effects are already clear to see.
The Teessiders play the final game of their Spanish excursion tomorrow morning when they take on Atletico Clube de Portugal, with Aitor Karanka having used the trip to focus on his players’ technical skills.
Rather than running his squad into the ground, the Boro boss has prioritised close-control work and tactical instruction, with Friend claiming the decision has already paid dividends.
“It’s been all football with very little running,” said the full-back, who was one of only two players to play the full 90 minutes of Saturday’s game. “It suits me. I need to get my fitness through football. I think we’re reaping the rewards of that.
“It was a good win (on Saturday). It was good to play the full game in the heat and to get my fitness up. I was very pleased.
“Wednesday’s game (when Boro lost to Lucena) wasn’t good enough. You take the negatives out of that and turn them into positives.
“The manager wasn’t happy after Wednesday and he doesn’t hide that. He was upset, we were all embarrassed, we had to put it right on Saturday. And we did that.”
Karanka was similarly satisfied with his side’s response, claiming his players’ attitude was much better than it had been during their first game on Spanish soil.
“I was pleased with the performance,” said the Boro head coach, who confirmed that the injuries that sidelined Seb Hines and David Atkinson at the weekend are not serious. “I felt they played like the team I had last season and they played like I want them to.
“We know we can play well and that’s why I am sad when we don’t do the things we should. But we showed how we can play when we are organised, when we have the right attitude and when we concentrate.”
Tomlin opened the scoring in Saturday’s game when he converted from the penalty spot, before Fewster added a second goal at the start of the second half.
Summer signing Kike came off the bench for the final 23 minutes of the game, with Williams claiming a third with five minutes remaining.
Leadbitter rounded off the scoring three minutes later, latching on to Kike’s through ball before slotting home.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele (Konstantopoulos 46), Morris, Woodgate (Gibson 78), Ayala (Burgess 78), Friend, Whitehead (Leadbitter 78), Butterfield (Reach 78), Halliday (L Williams 67), Tomlin (Main 67), Reach (Smallwood 78), Fewster (Kike 67).