Boro boss Karanka stokes the fire ahead of top-of-the-table clash

Aitor Karanka

Aitor Karanka

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Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka has doused petrol on the flames ahead of this evening’s top-of-the-table clash against the Clarets at Turf Moor.

The Spaniard’s war of words were issued at the club’s pre-match press conference yesterday with the inference that he would’ve already had Burnley promoted if he had the same squad at his disposal.

Karanka, who has spent close to £15m on fees for striker Jordan Rhodes and winger Stewart Downing, suggested that the Clarets have no excuses if they fail to win promotion to the Premier League having retained the majority of their squad while adding the likes of Andre Gray.

The league leaders go in to the fixture with a two-point cushion over Sean Dyche’s side having won six games in succession - their best league run since 1991.

“Imagine if we were here this season and at the beginning of the season, having been relegated with almost the same team and they were my squad, I would have no excuses not to win promotion again,” Karanka said.

“We started this season with good players and spent money because (Steve Gibson) thought now is the right moment. We played the (play-off) final last season without having spent money, and this season we’ve spent money and are top of the table.

“Imagine if I had a team with 10 to 13 players from the Premier League and my chairman sends me Gray and Tarkowski and other players, maybe we would be in the Premier League in February.

“Of course (I thought they’d be in the top two). But we are now above them and it is because we are doing really well.”

Karanka also suggested that he believes Brighton to be Boro’s biggest rivals for the title. The Seagulls take on QPR at the Amex Stadium.

“Now, no, because Brighton are having an amazing season,” he said.

“Last season when Chris (Hughton) was here for the last game, he had done an amazing job because when he took over they were struggling, so he finished the season really well.

“This season they are doing amazing. It is another difficult rival and Burnley is another one.”