AITOR KARANKA has reiterated his support for under-fire Middlesbrough goalkeeper Tomas Mejias, and told Jason Steele he is free to leave in the final three days of the transfer window.
Mejias will retain his place in Boro’s starting line-up for this afternoon’s home game with Reading despite struggling in his last two Championship matches.
The Spaniard, who completed a permanent deal from Real Madrid in the summer, spilled a late shot to enable Leeds striker Billy Sharp to score the winner at Elland Road two weeks ago and committed an even more farcical mistake last weekend as he missed the ball completely to allow Sheffield Wednesday striker Atdhe Nuhui to score the first goal of his side’s 3-2 win at the Riverside.
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Mejias has looked uncertain under the high ball, and Boro fans were quick to voice their support for his main goalkeeping rival, Dimi Konstantopoulos, when the Greek shot-stopper returned to the starting line-up for Tuesday’s League Cup win over Preston.
Karanka is aware of the mounting dissent, but will continue to select Mejias in his Championship XI and has urged the Riverside crowd to direct any frustration at him rather than his 25-year-old goalkeeper.
“I have a lot of confidence in Tomas,” said the Boro head coach. “I trust him 100 per cent. I have to be very careful with my decisions because I will have eight or nine months in front of us where we will play a lot of games.
“For that reason, I have to be sure in my decision, but I trust 100 per cent in Tomas. When I signed him – just like when I sign Patrick (Bamford) – it is because I am 100 per cent sure they can play here.
“I don’t have doubts that Tomas is not ready – when I signed him last season I was convinced he could play here, not for one or two games, but for a whole season. He can play here many seasons because he is a young player.
“If the fans have a doubt about a player, it is better that the criticism comes to me so the player who I’ve chosen for the game can be better.
“I’d like the crowd to support all of them so, if the crowd has some criticism, criticise me because it is my decision. If I play Dean (Whitehead) and Grant (Leadbitter), but the fans want me to put (Adam) Clayton in then I prefer they support Dean and Grant rather than criticise me. All the players deserve the support of the whole crowd.”
Mejias’ position as number one is even more contentious given the sidelining of Steele, whose only appearance since being sent off in Karanka’s first fixture at Leeds came in the somewhat meaningless game at Yeovil on the final day of last season.
The former England Under-21 international has not made the squad for any of Boro’s matches this season, and clearly has no future at the Riverside.
As a result, Karanka has told him he is free to seek alternative employers, although with Monday’s transfer deadline fast approaching, there are not believed to be any formal offers on the table.
“Jason knows the situation,” he said. “He knows that if he has a good choice to go, it won’t be a problem. But he has decided to be here, and if he is here after Monday, he will be part of my squad.
“I told him two months ago that he can go. He is intelligent, and he knows that he is not my first or second choice, but if he still decides to stay here, he is our player.”
While Steele has been told he can go elsewhere, Karanka is reluctant to allow teenage striker Bradley Fewster to leave on loan.
Having started both of Boro’s Capital One Cup fixtures this season, Middlesbrough-born Fewster has attracted the attention of a number of League One and League Two clubs.
Karanka has fielded a series of inquiries about taking the 18-year-old on loan, but is tempted to retain the youngster as part of his own first-team squad in order to increase his options from the substitutes’ bench.
Similarly, while Adam Reach and Luke Williams have previously been sent out on loan, the pair are likely to remain on Teesside until at least Christmas and instructed to fight for a first-team place.
“I love to work with the young lads,” said Karanka. “Bradley is a good player and he’s training well, so why shouldn’t he get his opportunity? The same is true of Luke and Adam.
“I’m happy with Bradley and I think he’s going to have a bright future. He’s a hungry player and I think he’ll have a good career.”