HEAD head coach Aitor Karanka says his one-match touchline ban has not affected his preparation ahead of tomorrow’s home clash with Derby County (kick off 12.15pm).
The Middlesbrough boss will watch the lunchtime game from the Riverside stands after admitting an FA charge of misconduct on Wednesday for his confrontation with the fourth official during the recent 1-1 draw with Blackburn Rovers.
Karanka says that the “it’s going to be a difficult way to manage the team but I think the ban was fair because I made a mistake. I have to learn for the future and I wanted to express my gratitude to the FA again.”
He says his absence in the technical area will not hinder Boro’s chances of beating the current league leaders where a win and results going in Boro’s favour would put the Teessiders at the summit.
As ever, Karanka has studied the opponents in depth and believes that a win is very possible.
“It’s an interesting game and we have to play in our way,” he told BBC Tees.
“Derby are the best team in the league and I have no doubt that they are.
“I know how they play and I know their style. It will be difficult.
“They were very close last season to promotion and this season they have better players and a very good manager (ex Boro chief Steve McClaren).
“We can do it but it’s going to be very difficult.”
Last December Boro were unlucky to lose 2-1 at Pride Park but atoned for that defeat with a 1-0 win against the promotion-chasing Rams in the reverse fixture in April.
“Last season when we played them we were very good,” reflected Karanka.
“Away, we lost the game in the last minute and around 60 minutes we had a sending off.
“Here, we beat them. Of course we can beat them again.”
Karanka has a selection dilemma in deciding whether to keep faith with last week’s hat-trick hero Jelle Vossen partnering Patrick Bamford up front or restoring to the Kike-Lee Tomlin double act.
Bamford yesterday revealed that talks have begun to keep him at the Riverside for the entire season – his loan deal from Chelsea is due to run out at the start of next month.
Meanwhile, two of Boro’s leading defensive figures have returned to first-team training after long-term injury asences, Jonathan Woodgate (thigh) and Rhys Williams (knee)