AITOR KARANKA has defended Tomas Mejias after the young goalkeeper made yet another mistake as Middlesbrough were defeated at home by Sheffield Wednesday.
Mejias, a week after dropping a clanger at Elland Road in the defeat to Leeds United, fluffed his lines by missing the ball when racing off his line as Athde Nuhiu fired home to give Wednesday a sixth-minute lead, in a game they went on to win 3-2 despite leading 3-0 at one point.
With Dimi Konstantopoulos and Jason Steele in reserve, Karanka has been criticised for keeping faith with the 25-year-old former Real Madrid player, but the manager issued a strong defence of his goalkeeper.
"Tomas Mejias is strong enough for the Championship, he's good enough for the Championship and he's good enough for Middlesbrough," Karanka said of his compatriot after Nuhiu’s brace and Stevie May’s first goal for Wednesday was pegged back by two second-half Grant Leadbitter penalties to set up a frantic finale.
"I told the players before the game that we needed to concentrate on not conceding goals from set-pieces, and we go and let in three. It was a surprise
"That was our biggest problem. I don't know if the players think that some of them are untouchables. I don't know. I can tell them that they aren't. I know my players and when I saw them today I felt this. some of them think they are untouchables.
"Wednesday were very good. I told my players before the game that we were going to play against one of the best teams in the division and they showed that. They're well organised and came at us as I expected.
"They can do well this season and when you're organised like that you have a lot of things gong for you. They'll be fighting there up at the top of the division this season, they'll be battling for the highest positions.”
Boro were second best in all departments to more hungry and dominant Wednesday, who seized the initiative in the sixth minute when they took full advantage of Mejias’ poor punch. Nuhiu reacted quickest to prod home despite the best efforts of Dani Ayala.
Kike, Boro’s top scorer with three goals from his first five games, turned provider when his smart ball found Adam Reach on the overlap and former Sunderland stopper Keiren Westwood did well to push the youngster’s shot around the post.
Leadbitter’s whipped free-kick hit the crossbar soon after, but Wednesday began to assert themselves on the game, with May firing in a shot that Mejias saved well on 23 minutes.
And the lead was doubled three minutes before the interval when May received Nuhiu’s pass and clipped delightfully over the advancing Mejias.
Boro switched to a 3-5-2 formation at half-time to compete with Wednesday’s attacking three, but were three-down on 57 minutes when Nuhiu rose highest to head powerfully past Mejias from Jaques Maghoma’s cross.
Boro strove to get back in the game, with Adam Reach drawing a save out of Westwood from his deflected cross, while Kike’s goalward shot was well saved by the Republic of Ireland international.
Hopes were raised when Leadbitter converted a penalty after Kike was hauled down in the area, but Wednesday went on the attack again and Mejias did well to save Maghoma’s effort on 75 minutes.
Glenn Loovens gave Wednesday a scare when his defensive header almost beat Westwood, and his day got worse moments later when he was ajudged to have handled Leadbitter’s shot in the area, and the former Sunderland midfielder again made no mistake from the spot.
A remarkable comeback almost materialised when Albert Adomah’s ball across the face of goal fell just behind Kike, too far for Leadbitter and millimetres away from Luke Williams as Westwood gathered.
Karanka believed Boro’s defeat was the worst performance since he took charge in November, but drew positives from the fact they could have emerged with a scarcely-deserved point.
"Against Leeds, I knew why we lost, but here it's more difficult to understand,” said the manager. "The only good thing for us would have been to take a point in the last second as we almost did having played the way we did. This result showed why I've tried not to get too carried away after wins this season.
"It's a difficult scoreline to explain. Where do I start. I prefer to not say too much now, go away and analyse the game and then go from there to make sure we don't perform like that again.”