By Rob Nichols
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Can Boro record a big result and significant performance v Man United on Sunday? It will be high noon for new caretaker boss Steve Agnew when we go head to head with Jose Mourinho's Man United at the Riverside. Yet with several high profile absentees in the United ranks there could be a glimmer of an opportunity for the man in the hot seat to make an immediate mark. Points against Man U could be the start of a Premier survival plan.
As unlikely as survival now seems the very least the fans will accept is going down with a fight. We need a phenomenal run of positive results now until the end of the season but 11 games is enough game time to make a real fist of it. Sadly we were going absolutely nowhere at all under Aitor. Jose Mourinho might talk about pointing the finger at players but it was the leadership and game plan and lack of both that have seen us floundering from a healthy position at Christmas to crisis at the end of Winter.
It isn't down to individual players, well, maybe Gaston excepted, that we are in this mess. Steve Gibson has taken action and the marriage to AK is over. Parting is always painful but this divorce seemed not only necessary but was also received with relief.
Now, having taken so many giant steps back we have a chance to stride forward. If we can perform well against Man United, get stuck in, show real intent and make an impact in the opposition penalty box, then we can take some semblance of hope into the international break.
Steve Agnew impressed in his first press conference. He wants the job and feels he knows what he has to do. Some fans have judged him on his one game a year ago at Charlton. Surely not fair when so much was up in the air in Karanka's lost weekend. That includes the beach balls Charlton fans were launching at the pitch and the whistles they were blowing. While Steve Agnew was standing in his technical area Leo was behind him wearing his Karanka t-shirt.
Instead I would encourage you to look back at the two games Agnew presided over between Strachan and Mowbray. The caretaker was not afraid of changing the playing style, he based this around replacing Strachan's hit and hope(less) with a passing game, quickly honed on the training ground. He was not afraid to change the personnel either, recalling young left back Joe Bennett from the wilderness, he was to play a big part in our revival under Mowbray. Agnew also promoted a young midfielder with battling qualities from the reserves, in Richie Smallwood.
We lost the two games at Nottingham Forest and Norwich but looked so much more potent than the sinking ship that Strachan was taking down and down. Remember Mowbray also lost his first games. It would take a lot of games and a big change round in players for us to recover then but Agnew did sow some seeds of recovery. He would then go on to improve his experience and qualifications under Steve Bruce in a highly successful spell at Hull City.
Steve Agnew was head hunted to return to Boro from Hull and drop down a division. He has worked patiently as part of the Karanka regime ever since, no doubt coaching to orders.
On Sunday we will see if Steve Agnew can work some magic on Karanka's players. Expect to see him continue with the disciplined approach but he will no doubt look to loosen some of the shackles.
The bottom line is going into January this team was good enough to stay up. It is now time for them to show it. There will be a full house and as always a really great atmosphere. We need a post Karanka bounce and if we achieve it the Riverside roar will be loud enough to be heard at Sunderland or Hull.
Come On Boro