Aitor Karanka has praised striker Emmanuel Ledesma for grasping his second chance at Middlesbrough – and promised other fringe men they will get their opportunity.
Boro are beginning to show real improvement under Karanka and followed up their win at Millwall with a defeat of table-topping Burnley to put space between themselves and the Championship relegation fight.
They take on Reading at the Riverside tomorrow aiming to make it three wins in a row, all powered by in-form Ledesma.
Karanka’s new broom has seen several out-of-favour stars handed second chances. Ledesma’s winning goal against Burnley was an example of what can happen when one of them steps in from the cold to impress.
The Boro boss is delighted for the forward and has suggested others will have a chance to impress in the coming weeks. Karanka (pictured below) said: “Emmanuel has had a chance under me and he has taken that chance. It’s important when you have four or five injuries in your team that you have players like Emmanuel and Jozsef Varga to come in and take their chance.
“It shows all the players have a chance at any moment. They have to be ready if that chance comes.
“Every day players who train very well are going to have a chance and Emmanuel has shown that since I took over. That is why he was hungry and why he played with confidence against Millwall and Burnley.
“Every player who plays in my team has my confidence.”
After scooping six points from their festive programme Boro now host play-off chasing Reading in a game which will be another stiff test of their Christmas improvement.
Karanka has helped Boro to look much more organised defensively and two clean sheets in games against Millwall and Burnley will give Riverside regulars hope a miserable 2013 can be put behind them.
As much as the defensive organisation is a reason for optimism under their new boss, adding a killer touch to a Boro side which so often failed to see off rivals will be just as pleasing for the new manager.
For while Boro enter a New Year in a position which suggests they are destined for mid-table mediocrity this term, Karanka is confident better performances are beginning to yield a reward for his improving team. He added: “It’s important for us to keep going.
“We were playing well in the beginning under me without winning. Beating a team at the top of the table should be very important in showing us we can keep climbing the table.
“The best thing for the crowd, for the team, is to start the game full of intensity and that’s what I want from my side. Games in the Championship are already very close, so you have to take control of games from the start.”
One feature of the last two games has been Boro’s rapid starts, which have brought them real joy in the opening stages against Millwall and Burnley.
The Riverside outfit stormed out of the blocks against Burnley and showed real intent against a team performing well – something Karanka wants to see repeated. He said: “I told the players we had to start at 100% because they were the leaders and if we wanted to win we had to start well. It is important for us to keep winning. Burnley are in a better position in the table than we are and it was a very important game for us, at home and at Christmas and it’s good to get the points.
“When you have this confidence to play it makes you more sure and safe. Manu did very well and Jozsef Varga also played very well. Woody, the captain, played very, very well and when you have this confidence you can win games.”
This is Karanka’s first taste of Christmas football and he is acutely aware it can set the tone for the rest of the season. He added: “This is different for me, I’m not used to such a programme, but it’s an important period in the English football calendar.”