MIDDLESBROUGH may have started the new year as they finished the last but it has not stopped Aitor Karanka demanding a sharpening of the focus.
Boro reached the fourth round of the FA Cup with relative comfort at Barnsley but with a trip to Reading next up, Karanka wants greater concentration from his players.
Every game is, of course, vital to the Teessiders.
But with the top of the Sky Bet Championship so congested – the top six are separated by just eight points – Karanka knows missed chances can cost points.
Boro have the best defensive record in the division – by some distance – but they are the lowest scorers in the promotion picture.
With Bournemouth scoring for fun, 54 in 24 games, it highlights the need to be clinical.
“We created a lot of chances [at Barnsley] but we need to be more concentrated,” said the Spaniard.
“If you think it is going to be easy in this league or in this level of football it isn’t easy.
“We have to concentrate better, we had four, five, six, seven chances in the first half.
“I don’t expect to score five or six, but may be two or three?
“We have to learn and look to finish games as soon as we can.
“We’ve had problems in the past when we’ve failed to kill teams off.
“It was good on Saturday that we were able to learn again.
“It is never easy winning at this level of football especially when some players are only playing at 70 per cent.
“But we have a very good squad and it’s good we are into the next round.”
Saturday’s visit of the inconsistent Royals should present Boro with a good opportunity for three points.
Only two clubs have conceded more goals than Reading though Steve Clarke’s side are unbeaten in three, a draw at Brighton being followed by a 2-1 win over Norwich and then a clean sheet in their all-Championship FA Cup victory at Huddersfield.
Boro have received some good news after Albert Adomah was NOT selected in Ghana’s 26-man squad.
The attacking ace looked a candidate for the Africa Cup of Nations but when boss Avram Grant trimmed his squad from 31 top 26, Adomah was one of the players to miss the cut.
Adomah will return this Saturday against the Royals, as will keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos who was rested at Barnsley.
Karanka needs to make a change in midfield with Grant Leadbitter set to return in place of the suspended Adam Clayton, who was sent off at Oakwell.
Dean Whitehead, who would be the natural candidate in the Clayton role, may be required to fill in a right-back.
Boro are awaiting news on Rhys Williams who it is feared suffered a recurrence of his long-standing Achilles trouble.
Karanka fears it is a “long-term injury” telling BBC Tees it is “either the same or similar” to his original problem.