Middlesbrough boss Karanka relishing Premier challenge
Aitor Karanka will lead Middlesbrough back into the Barclays Premier League season after dismissing reports linking him with a move away from the Riverside Stadium.
Speculation has swirled over Karanka’s future on Teesside after a bizarre mid-season bust-up which saw him stay at home while his club slumped to a potentially crucial defeat at Charlton.
But mutual faith was emphatically restored as Cristhian Stuani’s early goal paved the way for Boro to claim the 1-1 draw they required against promotion rivals Brighton in order to book their return to the top-flight after a seven-year absence.
Karanka, who signed a new four-year contract last year, said: “I said in my last press conference I have three more years here, and the contract is there.”
Asked specifically if he is still considering leaving the Riverside, Karanka added: “Today, thinking how difficult it has been to get promotion, I can say no.
“There are just 20 privileged managers who can be in the Premier league. I am going to be one of them after just two and a half years of experience, and that is amazing.”
Karanka paid particular tribute to the way his side managed to fight back from the agony of missing out on promotion after losing last year’s play-off final to Norwich.
He added: “When I came here two and half years ago and the group was not in a good position, and that season we finished the season really well.
“Last season was the same but everyone said after losing the play-off final that it could have been a different season, but we finished it by getting promotion.
“Some people said I was crazy when I said I would like to play in the Premier League with this club but we have done it.
“I would like to go to my bed and cry for 24 hours in a row because I can’t explain the emotions I have inside.”
Karanka finished the season with what seemed like a tactical masterstroke, replacing Stewart Downing with Cristhian Stuani, who excelled through and scored the crucial opening goal after 19 minutes.
He added: “I thought to play with Stuani because I knew how much of a winner and how hungry the Uruguayan players are. I knew he wasn’t having a good season and he had something to show.”
Brighton boss Chris Hughton indicated the club is likely to appeal against the 58th-minute sending-off of Dale Stephens for a foul on Gaston Ramirez which saw the Uruguayan player carried off.
Hughton was particularly incensed that referee Mike Dean appeared ready to show Stephens - who had pulled Brighton level just three minutes earlier - a yellow card before his assistants intervened.
Hughton said: “Sometimes you have to go with your gut feelings at the time - I thought I had a good view and I thought it was nowhere near a red card.
“I know at the time the referee pulled out a yellow card but he was persuaded by his officials that it was worth more than that, despite them being 35 to 40 yards away.
“I have no problems with referees and officials working together as a team but if that’s the case they’ve got to get the decisions right and on this occasion they didn’t do that.”
Describing his chief emotion as “pride” in his side’s performance, Hughton immediately turned his sights on the difficult task of raising spirits for the upcoming play-off semi-finals against Sheffield Wednesday.
Hughton added: “What we absolutely know is that we don’t have time to be too down about it. It is a distraught changing room but you want them to feel that way because you know what it means to them.
“We are still going into the play-offs on a good run and we’ve got to take positives out of this game.
“We’ve certainly surpassed all our expectations but at the moment we’re not thinking about what we’ve done so far, but what we can hopefully still do.
“We still have two more opportunities to do that and hopefully get to the final.”
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Leadbitter, Stuani, Ramirez (Downing 63), Adomah, Nugent (Rhodes 80). Subs Not Used: De Laet, De Sart, Agazzi, Kalas, Forshaw. Goals: Stuani 19.
Brighton: Stockdale, Saltor, Goldson, Greer (LuaLua 82), Rosenior, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, Murphy (Sidwell 64), Hemed, Baldock (Wilson 46). Subs Not Used: Maenpaa, Bong, Calderon, Skalak. Sent Off: Stephens (59). Booked: Knockaert, Saltor, Goldson. Goals: Stephens 55.
Att: 33,806 Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).