Aitor Karanka was delighted with Middlesbrough’s 3-0 win at previously unbeaten Brighton – although though he did not rate it as his side’s best win of the season.
After watching his side go clear at the top, Karanka said: “It wasn’t our best performance but we have beaten a team who were unbeaten.
We have to keep going. A lot of teams are behind us and they want to be in the same position as us.
“To score the first goal was very important and I’d liked to have scored again before our second goal arrived.”
Boro, who now boast six successive clean sheets in the league, are now three points above Brighton and Karanka said his side’s aim is simply to achieve promotion.
He added: “We have to keep going. A lot of teams are behind us and they want to be in the same position as us.”
Boro ended the Seagulls’ remarkable club record run of 22 league matches undefeated since the end of last season in front of Jose Mourinho.
Karanka said he chose not to tell his players that Mourinho, sacked by Chelsea this week, was in attendance but was delighted to have the support of his close friend, the pair having worked together for three years when Karanka was his assistant at Real Madrid.
Karanka said: “Jose brought us luck. We worked together at Real Madrid and it was an amazing experience.
“He is a friend of mine. I didn’t tell the players that he would be watching but it wasn’t a secret.
“Afterwards, he came into the dressing room to offer congratulations. He felt he had watched a really good team and he was impressed with us. He was the best and he will be the best.”
Boro were bidding for an eighth win in their last 10 games and Mourinho, sporting a new haircut, had barely taken his seat when the visitors broke the deadlock in only the fifth minute.
Ghana international winger Albert Adomah curled in a fine cross and Spanish striker Kike darted in front of German defender Uwe Huenemeier to head his first goal since August from 10 yards.
The Seagulls, who also started sluggishly in their previous home game when Charlton led by two goals after only five minutes, found it tough to get going.
Huenemeier, partnering skipper Gordon Greer in the centre of defence following Lewis Dunk’s suspension, was sent flying by an aerial challenge from Boro skipper Grant Leadbitter, who was booked by referee Craig Pawson.
Albion striker James Wilson, on loan from Manchester United, threatened midway through the half when he eased past Daniel Ayala but drove over with his weaker right foot.
Midfielder Dale Stephens put a left-footed volley wide and Seagulls winger Rajiv van La Parra, on loan from Wolves, had a penalty appeal turned down after bursting into the box.
Running towards goal, Van La Parra hit the deck after a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge with defender George Friend but referee Pawson waved away the home side’s appeal.
Boro doubled their lead with a minute remaining of the first half when Adomah struck with his fifth goal of the season.
A corner by Stewart Downing was headed on by Ayala and, after deflecting off defender Bruno, Adomah directed the ball home with his head from close range.
Brighton began the second half in more purposeful fashion and Boro goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos came to his side’s rescue 12 minutes after the break.
Good work by Israel international striker Tomer Hemed led to former Sheffield United winger Jamie Murphy having a goal-bound, right-footed shot skilfully tipped over by the Greek keeper.
Young defender Connor Goldson came on for his Brighton debut in place of the injured Huenemeier before Seagulls stopper David Stockdale saved smartly from Adam Clayton.
Boro, roared on by more than 2,000 travelling fans, effectively made the game safe in the 61st minute when Kike crossed accurately for Uruguay international striker Stuani to head home his ninth goal of the season from three yards.
Veteran Brighton striker Bobby Zamora came off the bench for the final 16 minutes and had an effort cleared off the line by Ayala.
Brighton: Stockdale, Saltor, Greer, Hunemeier (Goldson 60), Calderon, van La Parra, Stephens, Kayal, Murphy (Crofts 74), Hemed (Zamora 74), Wilson. Subs Not Used: Maenpaa, Manu, Ince, Chicksen.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue (Kalas 74), Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton (Zuculini 84), Leadbitter, Stuani, Downing, Adomah, Kike (Fabbrini 65).
Subs Not Used: Amorebieta, De Pena, Mejias, Forshaw. Booked: Leadbitter. Goals: Kike 4, Adomah 44, Stuani 62.
Att: 26,445 Ref: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire).