Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka saluted his side’s momentous Capital One Cup shoot-out success at Manchester United last night, believing the victory was merited.
Boro showed tremendous resilience to force their way to a goalless draw after extra time, before progressing 3-1 on penaties to thrill the huge travelling support.
Grant Leadbitter, Stewart Downing and Ben Gibson all successfully converted, with David Nugent’s miss not proving disastrous.
The Championship side now have a home quarter-final against Everton to look forward to.
Karanka enthused: “It was amazing.
“The performance and the spirit, it was amazing.
“I am so proud of my players and our crowd should be.
“Two years ago if we’d have thought we could have nights like this.. My aim is to get the club to these kinds of stadiums every week.”
Battling Boro had a goal disallowed in normal time.
Kike was flagged offside when hitting an effort against Sergio Romero’s far post and as the ball came back across the six-yard box, United defender Daley Blind somehow managed to slam the ball directly into the net with no one around him.
His head entered his hands, but, fortunately for him, the linesman’s flag spared his blushes.
Blind was close to another own goal, breathing a huge sigh of relief as Romero’s mis-control from his back pass went narrowly wide.
Jesse Lingard struck a post in the 90th minute, while ex-Sunderland midfielder Leadbitter and Downing were denied by Romero in stoppage time.
Marouane Fellaini, on two occasions, and sub Anthony Martial missed gilt-edged chances for United in extra time.
Karanka added: “It was an amazing game. They (United) have a lot of good players, they are very organised.
“But I told my players that I felt we were better than them, we were fitter and more confident. I have to say how proud how I am. The main thing is the performance and it was amazing.
“They all played well. It was a difficult team selection because I had injuries and yellow cards to consider. And we have an important game on Saturday. I have to say again how much I trust all my players because players who haven’t played were amazing. Eight days ago we were almost crying after Cardiff but we’ve come back stronger.”
In the shoot-out, Wayne Rooney was the first to miss for United and although Andreas Pereira converted, Michael Carrick blazed over the bar before Mejias guessed right to deny Ashley Young and send Boro through.
The shoot-out woe almost matched their penalty exit to Sunderland at the semi-final stage two seasons ago, when United also only scored once.
United boss Louis van Gaal was not interested in hard-luck stories as he rued a succession of squandered opportunities. “When you are not finishing the chances – and they were very easy chances in front of the goal or in front of the goalkeeper – then it is very difficult to win a game because the goals are counting, not the chances,” the Dutchman said.
“My players have given everything and that’s why I am also proud of them because until the end they have done it. Penalties is a casino – you never know.”
Van Gaal absolved his trio of penalty missers any blame, preferring to instead reflect on Mejias’s successful rolls of the dice.
“In the goal was a goalkeeper; and he was very quick and he gambled also,” Van Gaal added. “He’s 195 centimetres. That is not easy to do when the goalkeeper is gambling for the right corner. You need players who look at the goalkeeper and put it in the other (corner)...very early he goes away. It is already 120 minutes you have played so you are not so sharp any more. These things happen.”
Manchester Utd: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo (Young 61), Carrick, Fellaini, Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Depay (Martial 71), Wilson (Rooney 46). Subs not used: De Gea, Mata, Herrera, Schweinsteiger.
Middlesbrough: Mejias, Kalas, Stephens (Clayton 114), Ayala, Friend, Gibson, Leadbitter, Nsue, De Pena (Zuculini 79), Downing, Kike (Nugent 84). Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Amorebieta, Fabbrini, Jackson. Ref: Lee Mason (Lancashire).