Aitor Karanka is hoping Middlesbrough’s mini-break in Spain will tonight reap rewards against a “dangerous” Cardiff City side.
Title-chasing Boro host Cardiff at the Riverside (7.45pm kick-off) fresh from their training camp in Marbella.
I told them it’s not just about working on the pitch.
Karanka says the camp was an excellent opportunity for the January recruits to get to know their new teammates ahead of a gruelling Championship run-in.
Third-placed Boro, without a win in five, are two points adrift of leaders Hull City while Russell Slade’s Cardiff, who thumped Brighton & Hove Albion 4-1 on Saturday, are seventh, chasing a play-off spot.
Karanka said: “I wanted to go to Spain, because here it is sometimes difficult because of the weather, it is raining or windy.
“Sometimes you think you have a week to work together but because of the weather sometimes you aren’t able to do that.
“I am really pleased because we were together and we worked really well.
“I told them it’s not just about working on the pitch.
“It’s about spending time together to get to know each other and for the players who came here over the last few weeks to see how good the atmosphere is in the changing room.”
Karanka is expecting a difficult evening at the Riverside, with Slade’s Cardiff unbeaten in six league matches.
He added: “Yes, it will be a really dangerous game, not just because they have beaten Brighton but they are also unbeaten in six games.
“Since Russell [Slade] took charge they are improving. They beat us down there, it will be a tough game.
“We couldn’t win the last three games at home so have to try and win this one to keep going.”
Meanwhile, Karanka has confirmed he won’t throw Daniel Ayala and George Friend back into action unless he is convinced they are 100 per cent fit.
Ayala (hamstring) and Friend (shoulder) are close to a return but Karanka won’t risk their long-term fitness.
He added: “I don’t want to lose them for more time. I have to speak with them and with the doctors,” added Karanka ahead of the 500th game at the Riverside Stadium.
“[Playing at home] is key for us,” Karanka told BBC Tees Sport.
“We need to recover that home form, especially for our crowd, it is important to keep going and win the games at home.”
The Boro boss is also without suspended duo, Ben Gibson and holding midfielder Adam Clayton. It could mean Dael Fry and Tomas Kalas as a central defensive pairing.
“When we finished in the [transfer] market two or three weeks ago I was really pleased with the squad and I still am. We have enough players,” added Karanka.
“Dael Fry has not been a surprise for me, I am really pleased with him. It is a good pressure for the players.”