• Middlesbrough manager’s future still in doubt after FA Cup exit
• Karanka under scrutiny for dropping Stewart Downing and Patrick Bamford
Aitor Karanka’s future as Middlesbrough’s manager remains uncertain following the FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Manchester City at The Riverside but, outwardly at least, he remains typically defiant.
“City showed they’re one of the best teams,” said Karanka after goals from David Silva and Sergio Aguero propelled Pep Guardiola’s side into the semi finals. “But I’m really proud of my players because they’ve given a massive effort, from the first minute until the end. We were trying to apply high pressure and the effort has been amazing.”
In many ways this 2-0 Cup exit could prove a blessing in disguise, permitting Boro to concentrate on their struggle to avoid relegation, although, with Steve Gibson, the club’s owner, understood to be assessing his options Karanka required an improved performance.
Whether or not he received it from a team who have won four Premier League games this season, scoring 19 goals in the process, is debatable. But for Brad Guzan’s excellence in the home goal, the defeat could have been significantly heavier but, where others detected negatives, Boro’s manager - who omitted Stewart Downing and Patrick Bamford from his matchday squad - preferred to see only positives.
“We needed to recover our confidence but we worked hard and stayed together,” he said. “Going in this way, we’ll win games. I took a lot of positives. Our reaction to conceding an early goal was good.”
Asked about the omission of Downing - a player with whom he has not always seen eye to eye - and Bamford, a £6m January signing from Chelsea, Karanka said he will pick only fighters who want to “fight for the team”.
He pointed out that mid-match injuries to Rudy Gestede and Bernardo disrupted his gameplan, but knows he is still on shaky ground before Manchester United’s visit next Sunday.