Mystery surrounds the future of Aitor Karanka after the Basque coach boss walked out on his Middlesbrough players following a heated team meeting at the club’s Rockliffe Park training ground on Friday. The club announced on Saturday afternoon that assistant Steve Agnew will take charge for this game.
Quite what effect these shenanigans will have on Boro’s performance at The Valley is anyone’s guess but I’d much sooner be on the 5/1 about Charlton capitalising on the distraction than the general 4/6 quotes about the Teessiders rallying themselves to justify whatever point it is they wish to make to their manager.
Based on their usual defensive solidity and the discipline they show when protecting a lead, it’s reasonable to assume Karanka has always had the respect of at least five or six Boro regulars, so it would be dangerous to assume the most outspoken players behind closed doors speak for everyone in the camp.
Most of the speculation appears to revolve around Stewart Downing, the local hero brought back to the Riverside in a £5.5m deal last summer. Karanka has dropped the winger on a couple of occasions in recent months, reportedly telling close friends the transfer had nothing to do with him and he’s finding the player difficult to deal with.
On top of that, Karanka’s staunch preference for playing 4-2-3-1 means you’ve also got a situation whereby one multi-million pound striker being forced to sit on the bench and rotate with another. It’s always been a simmering issue, so it would be no surprise if that particular pot has also boiled over.
However, the situation really has to be black and white to justify a bet on the visitors. If somebody could convince me all the players are singing from the same hymnsheet and Agnew is going to ditch any attempt at diplomacy by playing 4-4-2 to accommodate all of his big hitters, then I’d maybe be consider my options about Boro winning and scoring goals in the process.
But without such guarantees, you have to take a chance on the home side at such a big price, regardless of how bad their form looks and where they are in the table. The Addicks have had three different managers this season and though their squad clearly isn’t the strongest, we shouldn’t be judging a capable manager in Jose Riga on anything that occurred before his arrival in mid-January.
Charlton haven’t won at home in ten attempts but Riga has masterminded away victories at Rotherham and Brentford, so he might welcome the opportunity to approach this like an away game. When forced to make the running at The Valley against the likes of Bristol City, Reading and MK Dons in recent weeks, the atmosphere has soon turned sour with contempt from the stands compounding whatever pressure the players were already feeling.
In front of the television cameras, and against a team that has spent as much as Middlesbrough, the fans surely have to cut the players a bit more slack. According to my 16-match ratings, based purely on shot data, the Addicks should be no bigger than 4/1 and the correct score price that equates to best value is Charlton to win 2-0 at 35/1, which is around 28/1 on my tissue.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system