AITOR Karanka is braced for a pitch battle at Blackpool – in more ways than one.
Middlesbrough head to the seaside tonight knowing a win could take them to the summit of the Sky Bet Championship – if the showdown between the top two ends in a draw.
But Karanka is making sure his in-form side no not get bogged down at Bloomfield Road (kick-off 7.45pm).
Everything would point towards an away win – Boro are flying after four straight league wins and are just one point behind Bournemouth and Derby who meet at Dean Court this evening.
Blackpool, on the other hand, look destined for League One football as they stand nine points from safety and with an absymal goals scored and conceded record.
But Lee Clark’s men appear to be fighting hard, having won two of their last five, both 1-0 wins on what is a difficult pitch, and that is being kind to the Bloomfield Road ‘turf’.
Karanka knows a cocktail of spirited opposition on a poor surface will cause his third-placed side problems, not that he will accept any “excuses”.
He said: “Going to Blackpool thinking it is going to be an easy game could be our biggest mistake.
“We struggled against them in the game at the Riverside.
“Now they have changed a lot of players and they are fighting for the points to stay in this division.
“We’ll have to go there prepared for a very difficult game on a very difficult pitch.
“But we have to win.
“I have been analysing their games and their pitch is awful.
“But it is not an excuse. If we lose the game I’m not going to say we were beaten because the pitch was bad.
“The main worry I have is that we may get some injuries, this is not good for us.
“It is not going to be easy to play in our style, but the players know this.
“My squad is ready to play wherever we have to play.
“They know what sort of pitch we’ll be playing, they will be ready.”
Karanka is unlikely to deviate too much from the team who enjoyed a 3-1 home victory over Charlton.
The squad are all fit though Daniel Ayala who is available after completing a two-match suspension.
Ayala has been a key man at the centre of the meanest defence in the land though has missed the wins at Brentford and over the Addicks.
The Ben and Ken combo, Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo, have not let Boro down so Karanka has a poser to ponder.