Aitor Karanka believes tomorrow’s mouth-watering Sky Bet Championship clash with Nottingham Forest will be a “good test” for his promotion-chasing side.
Middlesbrough are top, two points clear of second-placed Hull City, with a game in hand on Steve Bruce’s Tigers.
But Karanka’s side face Dougie Freedman’s side who have not been beaten in the league since November and still harbour play-off ambitions of their own.
The Spaniard is expecting a tough game at the Riverside (kick-off 3pm).
Karanka said: “It is a good game to test ourselves. Forest are coming on a really good run and they haven’t lost in the last 10 games
“They are a really organised team and I like their manager, he is doing a really good job.”
Boro’s own good run came crashing to a surprise halt last week, when they conceded an injury-time goal to lose at managerless Bristol City.
That defeat was the first in nine games for the Teessiders, who will be looking to respond tomorrow.
From what he has seen in training, Karanka is confident his team will.
“We don’t come from a bad game, we come from a bad week.” said the Boro boss.
“We beat Brentford but our performance wasn’t good.
“Forest are coming here thinking they can beat us, and they can, so this is another motivation for them.
“Our training sessions have been really good.
“There has been a really good attitude and a really good intensity and for that reason we have to know we are in January, in a position we want to be in.
“But we have won nothing yet. We have to keep coming because we have a lot of games to go until the end.”
Karanka admits that the Ashton Gate defeat could act as a “wake-up call” to any complacent to think the job has already been done.
He said: “I think it is a good wake-up call especially when you are top of the table because you need those wake-up calls to get those points you need for promotion.”
The ex-Real Madrid assistant manager feels the break next week, because of MK Dons’ FA Cup involvement, will help his side get in the right mentality to deal with the pressures the rest of the season will bring.
Boro possess one of the best home records in the division, and Karanka believes for now it is vital his squad keep that going, starting with three points against Forest.
“It is important because we play at home, and our home record is really good this season,” he told BBC Tees.
“The reason we are in the first position is because we are playing well at home, winning almost all the games we play at home.
“After that we have two weeks to work, to prepare for the following two and a half to three months.
“We are in a really good position and we need to keep going.”