Fly Me To The Moon column: Birmingham clash should have been a Riverside reunion, hopefully it's not such a happy return for Aitor Karanka & Co [Mail]


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FMTTM COLUMN: Robert Nichols previews Middlesbrough home match against Birmingham which will see some familiar faces return to the Riverside.​

By Robert Nichols
Friday, 15th January 2021, 5:30 pm

Middlesbrough’s high noon showdown with Birmingham City is going to have more than a hint of a friends and football family affair about it.

It ought to have been a big reunion on Saturday for Aitor Karanka’s return to the Riverside. Not only would it have been pleasing to acknowledge the manager that steered us to our last top-flight promotion but also to have a chance to applaud the captain that helped save our bacon in the summer, George Friend.

All those swashbuckling runs down the left flank so often lit up the Riverside. Then after the match he was cheerleader supreme with the crowds.

Former Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka took charge of Birmingham at the start of this season.

Off the pitch it was Gentleman George on the phone to fans isolated through lockdown. Yet he reeled in the attacking spirit and returned to the basics to lead a disciplined and determined backline from centre back.
He was even playing on for the cause without the security a contract. Such a shame it all ended for him with an empty stadium.
Should he get the nod for selection, Adam Clayton will be another returnee. Along with Grant Leadbitter he was the beating heart of our engine room for six years.
Maybe Clayts was always destined to rejoin George Friend, after all he was the player that would follow him around all four sides of the Riverside to give and take the applause, win, lose or draw.
Another former Boro player that throws everything into his performances is Lukas Jutkiewicz. Big Jukebox is bound to feature at some point in the match and at that point or points our defenders will know all about his big presence.
The goals dried up for Lukas at the Riverside and that proved costly not just for the centre forward but also the manager that brought him in, Tony Mowbray. Ironic though that he should find himself playing for the gaffer that sold him on, he will hope that it doesn’t end as badly as it did with the reunion of Warnock and Clayton, last summer.
Aitor Karanka looks to be on borrowed time at St Andrew’s. Recent form sees them having taken just one point out of the last five league fixtures.
While Man City are impossibly-good opponents to draw in the FA Cup third-round there was never even a glimmer of hope that they would repeat the heroics that Karanka’s Championship Boro side at Eastlands. They were all too easy pickings. Just as Boro found when hitting the Blues for four in Birmingham, less than a month ago.

Many managers would have fallen by now at a Birmingham club that seem to suffer from the Midland disease of hiring then firing managers with the change in the seasons. Not football seasons but the four seasons of the year.
Aitor might require a miracle now, rather like the 2-0 shock victory his Nottingham Forest side romped to on his last visit to the Riverside. Here’s hoping that there will not be such happy returns this time out for our former friends.