Aitor Karanka blames bad luck for Middlesbrough's slow start
Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka believes bad luck has been responsible for his side's sluggish start on their return to the Premier League - and warned his side to take nothing for granted against fellow strugglers Hull.
Despite a recent improvement in performances, Boro go into Monday night's Riverside Stadium clash sitting just one point above Mike Phelan's Tigers, whose own poor form has seen them branded relegation favourites.
Hard-earned points at Arsenal and Manchester City and a narrow home defeat to Chelsea last month have raised hopes of survival on Teesside but Karanka knows his side's previous failures against so-called lesser teams have cost them dear.
Karanka said: "I think for example against Stoke we could have won and against Watford and Crystal Palace we didn't deserve to lose. But the truth is we have 12 points and one day we will not deserve to win and we will win.
"When you have been working in the Championship for two and a half years and know how tough every single game is, having the opportunity to work against the best teams in the world is amazing, but we know we have to improve every single day."
Despite their problems in the top-flight this season, Karanka believes Hull will travel to the north-east buoyed by their midweek EFL Cup win over Newcastle which sent them through to the semi-finals.
"They have had injuries but they are in a good moment having reached the semi-final and they are only one point below us," added Karanka.
"We know them from last season but it is going to be a completely different game. We have to avoid complacency thinking we are playing really well or we are playing at home against Hull who have a lot of injuries.
"We have to forget everything and only think that we have a tough game and an important game, and just focus on us."
Karanka could be tempted to name the same side that earned a 2-2 draw at champions Leicester last week, with Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo shrugging off recent criticism to grab two goals against the Foxes.
With George Friend still sidelined with the knee injury he picked up prior to the defeat to Chelsea, Brazilian Fabio is expected to continue at full-back but Dani Ayala is back in contention to return after an ankle injury.
Hull goalkeeper David Marshall hopes to return to the starting line-up to face one of his heroes in Victor Valdes.
Marshall, 31, made way for Eldin Jakupovic in the EFL Cup against Newcastle at the KCOM Stadium on Tuesday night and watched the Swiss keeper save twice in a penalty shootout to help the Tigers reach the semi-finals of the competition for the first time.
But Marshall is bidding to be back between the posts at the Riverside to face Middlesbrough's Valdes, who was the Scotland international's goalkeeping idol during his pomp at Barcelona.
"He's outstanding," said Marshall. "I've played against him a few times going back over 10 years now.
"Back at that time he was an idol of mine. Growing up and playing against him after watching him play at the top team in the world at that time..."
Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka said it was a "privilege" to have been able to sign Valdes, 34, on a free transfer from Manchester United in the summer and Marshall is keen to pit his wits against the former Spain international.
"It's good to test yourself against top keepers, playing in this competition," Marshall said. "That's what you want to do."