PROUD Aitor Karanka insists his side are the most deserving of a place in the Barclays Premier League next season after seeing Middlesbrough move to the top of the Sky Bet Championship.
An early own goal from Canaries midfielder Alex Tettey was enough to give Boro a 1-0 win at Norwich, their third victory in six days, and one which took them to the Championship summit with just two games remaining.
I told them after the game if there is a team who deserve to be in Premier League it’s themAITOR KARANKA
Karanka, whose side defended resolutely as Norwich strived to take something from the game, believes there is no team who have earned a crack at the top flight more than his.
“For us it’s amazing,” he said.
“This last week for us has been amazing.
“We have won three games in six days especially versus Norwich when once again, everyone thought Norwich would beat us. I’m proud of my players.
“Once again they showed when they play their best they can beat everyone.
“I told them after the game if there is a team who deserve to be in Premier League it’s them.”
Middlesbrough flew out of the blocks and had already passed up a couple of chances to take the lead before Tettey diverted Grant Leadbitter’s corner into his own net on eight minutes – with Patrick Bamford and Lee Tomlin both causing problems for the experienced Norwich defence.
Alex Neil, whose side went into the game on the back of a five-match winning streak, threw on Lewis Grabban, Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond as the second half progressed but they could still not test Dimi Konstantopoulos with a clear chance.
Ben Gibson’s late block from a Russell Martin shot summed up Boro’s commitment, as they clocked up their 20th clean sheet.
The only worries for Boro on a great night in Norfolk were injuries to Jelle Vossen and Bamford though the attackers have a week to recover ahead of next Saturday’s trip to Fulham.
Neil left bemoaning a slow start to the game but was ultimately disappointed by the lack of cutting edge shown in the final third.
“It is always frustrating when you don’t win a game and when you don’t start well,” he said.
“The first 15 minutes cost us the match. It allowed Middlesbrough to play the way they play – to let their wingers hit us on the counter-attack.
“They defended well and were well organised. We wanted to start well and I think the first goal was always going to be crucial – if they do score it is always difficult to come back at them.
“I thought we created some opportunities but not enough from the dominance we had with the ball but that doesn’t matter if you don’t turn it into goals and chances.”
Karanka refused to rule Norwich out of the fight for automatic promotion and feels the race will go down to the final day – but Neil now seems to be prepared for the play-offs as the Canaries sit fourth with just two games remaining.
“I don’t think anybody is going to say that everything is rosy,” he added. “We are extremely disappointed that we lost the game but we still have things to fight for.
It looks more likely that we are going to be involved in the play-offs so what we need to do now is dust ourselves off and react - you can’t start to feel sorry for yourself.
“We need to try and improve and kick on to win our next two matches.”