A WEEK is a long time in football, so a year should have provided a great healer when Aitor Karanka returns to the Riverside for the first time since his departure.

Karanka, now Nottingham Forest manager, will be back on Teesside this weekend, most likely proud to be back where he cut his managerial teeth after first moving to English football.

The likelihood is he will be given a warm reception too, after all the 44-year-old was the man who took Middlesbrough back to the Premier League, regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of the fact he was also the man who couldn’t keep them up.

Karanka enjoyed living in the North-East, took the area to his heart and made some good friends in the area. There should be a sense of disappointment too when he walks out on home soil, knowing how things turned sour in the final year or so of his time with the club.

Many of the players Tony Pulis will send out against Forest were big factors in Middlesbrough’s two promotion pushes under Karanka – and they won’t forget that either.

Players have spoken out such as Stewart Downing and Grant Leadbitter since his exit in March 2017, expressing how badly things turned out, describing splits in the camp among other things.

And yet the vast majority of them will still hold their time under Karanka in high regard. After all, over the course of a footballer’s career, it is moments like a promotion party and an appearance at Wembley that can be cherished when the boots are put away and the playing days over.

Chief Football Writer Paul Fraser looks back with some pictures at the highs and lows of Karanka’s three and a half years at Middlesbrough … good or bad there were some fantastic times.


Tony Mowbray might have laid the foundations for a revival by cutting costs across the board, but Karanka still inherited a squad sitting five points above the relegation zone in the Championship.

The former Real Madrid defender ended up losing just nine of the remaining matches, keeping 13 clean sheets, and from that moment on people had the belief he could deliver.


Karanka outlined from the moment he took over how he wanted to lead Middlesbrough into big occasions and success stories. His first of those was when he took Middlesbrough to Anfield and he came within a whisker of beating Liverpool in the Capital One Cup.

An extraordinary penalty shoot-out required 30 spot-kicks to settle the third round tie and it was Albert Adomah, who had already scored his initial penalty, that missed the crucial one in front of the Kop. Patrick Bamford had scored earlier.


A bust-up with assistant Craig Hignett led to the former Middlesbrough playmaker leaving the club and that was seen as a first sign of a weakness in Karanka’s character. The row centred on a disagreement over tactics after the Blackburn game, although the heated exchange had been coming.


This was the occasion when everyone really started to sit up and take notice of what Karanka was doing at the Riverside. After a strong start to the Championship, Boro went to Manchester City in the FA Cup and knocked Manuel Pellegrini’s side out.

Bamford, on loan from Chelsea, scored the winner soon after half-time on a day when Lee Tomlin ran Vincent Kompany ragged in front of 5,500 travelling fans.


After Capital Cup victories over Oldham, Burton and Wolves, the stage was set for the Championship high-flyers to go head-to-head with Manchester United at Old Trafford.

After a goalless draw, and a stalemate in extra-time too, Boro memorably defeated the Red Devils in front of their own fans on penalties when Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young all missed in front of 10,000 Boro fans.

MAY 2015

After such an impressive first full season under Karanka it was hard to believe Middlesbrough could not finish the job off and defeat Norwich at Wembley in the Championship play-off final.

In truth, after some of the displays and starring roles, Middlesbrough should have gone up in the top two. Instead, a gamble on Bamford’s fitness, and a few other problems on the days, including the late arrival of the team coach, led to the Canaries winning.


There was a bust-up with Albert Adomah after he had been left out of the side following four appearances at the start of the season and a home defeat to Bristol City. In the end, after a failed transfer request, he returned to the team and scored, running over to celebrate with Karanka against Norwich – and it was then described as a “storm in a tea cup”.

MARCH 2016

Following a defeat at struggling Rotherham in the midweek – during a run of three wins in nine - there was a heated exchange with the players and staff in the build up to the trip to Charlton. Had he walked? Was he sacked? Or was he still in charge?

Confusion reigned that weekend, so Karanka did not travel to Charlton and instead Steve Agnew and goalkeeper coach Leo Percovich – who wore an AK top out of respect – held the reins and Middlesbrough still lost 2-0. Karanka had a make-or-break meeting with Steve Gibson and he stayed in charge, leading Middlesbrough to promotion after that.

MAY 2016

Twelve months after losing to Norwich City in the play-off final at Wembley, Middlesbrough went up automatically by securing the point against rivals Brighton that secured a top-flight spot along with Burnley.

After the final whistle there was a party on the Riverside pitch and Karanka was visibly emotional after finally achieving the goal – after months of frustration and hurt too.


What a summer at the Riverside. Following promotion to the Premier League, Karanka worked his magic and used his contacts to bring in players of the calibre of Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo in moves reminiscent of the days of Juninho and Ravanelli. Negredo scored on his debut against Stoke at the Riverside after Xherdan Shaqiri had put the Potters ahead.


What a Bonfire Night. Middlesbrough turned in a strong performance to continue a positive start to life in the top tier by claiming a point at Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola’s side had taken the lead through Sergio Aguero before half-time and but Marten de Roon arrived in the box to grab a brilliant equaliser in stoppage-time to really put Middlesbrough back on the Premier League map.

MARCH 2017

On March 16 it was all over. After three and a half years, Karanka left the club. Boro were winless in their last ten Premier League games and sat in the relegation zone, three points from safety with 11 games remaining.

They were also the league's lowest scorers with just 19 goals and frustrations had grown in the dressing room and in the stands.