Middlesbrough bow out with 4-1 win at Yeovil

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka.

“SPECIAL K” read the unfurled banner at full-time, more of a play on words of Aitor Karanka’s trusty mentor, Jose Mourinho.

But it could have some meaning, some significance – the Special K could very feasibly become Middlesbrough’s Special One.

Excitement ahead of next season has been raised a level or few after a strong finish to the Championship season, capped off by Saturday’s 4-1 win Yeovil.

Do not oversight the quality of opposition Boro were up against – the Glovers have finished bottom for a reason.

And do not assume that a goal fest from Boro’s part indicates that their attacking side – so often pained – has been resolved.

While the scoring triumvirate of Lee Tomlin, Danny Graham and Emmanuel Ledesma all added ingenuity and conviction, Ledesma tearing apart Yeovil’s Jamie McAllister, the goals served as a reminder to the Spanish head coach to prioritise attacking recruitment in the close season.

Defensive solidity has become a mainstay of the Teessiders since Karanka’s arrival but he has wised up to the fact that sides who reach the coveted Premier League also have a strike force with one, usually two, 20-goal marksmen.

A striker must be bought. Whether or not that is Graham remains to be seen but if this is to be his last appearance in a Boro shirt his contribution cannot go amiss.

He scored, assisted and inflicted a torrid afternoon on the Yeovil backline of Shane Duffy and Byron Webster.

He was also afforded the chance of missing two open goals – from the poacher’s territory of three yards and four yards.

It emphasises the ineptitude of Yeovil that they weren’t costly.

Graham’s link-up man, the forever-impressing Lee Tomlin, will get a higher mark in the match ratings. If Karanka’s going to mimic his ally with a moniker of his own, Tomlin deserves a saluting nickname also.

He is the player who provides the attacking spark. He is the creator. He is the glue that provides the cohesion between midfield and attack.

Whichever striker is brought in – it may yet be the recall if Lukas Jutkiewicz – his job is already made simpler by having Tomlin’s aid.

If anyone has vindicated Karanka’s philosophy since his arrival though it is Ledesma.

Insistence of a winning mentality from the manager has become norm during his press conferences – you can almost predict the phrase will leave his mouth.

But it is not a tired turn of speech – the instillation of consistent success is a yearning. Ledesma epitomised it by having a quibble with Tomlin after only 10 minutes after the latter didn’t set off in the trajectory the Argentine hoped.

It wasn’t sour grapes, it was that he was desperate to win. Karanka has trained him well.

He also scores goals and assists, too.

When his left-foot shot was parried on the half-hour mark by Marek Stech, Graham pounced. First notification of the afternoon of how important having a poacher is.

The winger then restored the visitor’s lead, after James Hayter had finished from close range, after being served by Graham.

When Duffy haplessly back-headed, Graham ran on, dinked the ball to the incoming Ledesma who squeezed in.

The long ball over the top was the catalyst for Boro’s goals in first half. Different to Karanka’s style, admittedly, but it is another string to his bow – adaption.

The third member of the terrorising trio, Tomlin, doubled the lead after he heaped more misery on Duffy, outpacing him, before rounding Stech and knocking in from an acute angle. The assist? Keeper Jason Steele, courtesy of his long punt.

Karanka admitted afterwards that the game was not a “real test” but it strikes a chord that his side were still as willing to score more.

Number four arrived only two minutes after the break. Sub Adam Reach played a neat one-two with the spearhead Graham and the cross from Reach found Ledesma, peeling off McAllister, and rotating his body mid-air to meet the ball with an acrobatic volley.

Graham soon missed his second open goal, and Ledesma passed up the chance of a hat-trick when he opted to shoot with his right foot instead of his left.

Hartlepool-born Bryn Morris came on for his now annual end-of-season-cameo, operating in midfield tidily for over 25 minutes, as Boro saw the game out.

It is not a slight on Karanka to suggest that had Boro had a striker in the mould of Graham – bar the open goal squanders – since August then the season could have continued into May.

He inherited a squad devoid of clinical attacking and set about tightening the rear-guard, ensuring it was no longer porous.

The Special K has succeeded in the first third, now he must accomplish the final third’s task. Teessider’s Special One? To paraphrase the original, Boro could be next season’s little horses.