Middlesbrough have come a long way in my time here says Aitor Karanka

Aitor Karanka goes to shake hands with Norwich boss Alex NeilAitor Karanka goes to shake hands with Norwich boss Alex Neil
Aitor Karanka goes to shake hands with Norwich boss Alex Neil
“WE were not ready to play Premier League,” is how Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka summed up yesterday’s Championship play-off final loss to Norwich City.

Boro conceded two unanswered first-half goals to the Canaries that consigned Boro to at least another year of exile.

It is now seven years since a Boro team last graced the top tier of English football and an honest Karanka admitted afterwards that his side did not warrant promotion to the Championship.

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Despite being in the promotion mix for almost the entire season, and leading the league at several points, Karanka preferred to focus on the club’s rise since he took charge in November 2013.

“I want to say how proud I am of my players, of my chairman, of my club because I arrived here 18 months ago and the team was two points above the relegation position,” he said.

“We showed everybody that it is a Premier League club.

“This season was amazing. We have to keep going in the same way because we have to think where we were 18 months ago and where Norwich were 18 months ago.

“A lot of squads spent a lot more money than us and we started the season with nine, 10 players and we played the final today,

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“The crowd had lost the happiness and this season they got their happiness back.

“The club, the crowd, the players, the manger, the chairman – we have to keep going.”

For all the praise Jose Mourinho’s former assistant at Real Madrid has received this season, the Spanish chief’s team selection and substitutions have left him open to criticism.

His decision to start Patrick Bamford in favour of Kike did not pay dividends, the on-loan Chelsea forward clearly not fully fit.

But Karanka claimed Bamford “was 100 per cent”.

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He said: “I was speaking with him and I decided that he could play 90 minutes or 120 minutes so he would play 90 minute because he was ready to play.

“I thought he was the best player for the team.”

Karanka said Boro’s late arrival at Wembley was not a factor, saying: “I prefer to arrive on time but that is not why we lost.

“I didn’t want to be in the changing rooms more than one hour and half before. That is enough because sometimes to be in the changing rooms for a lot of time is more pressure.

“As a player I prefer to arrive to the pitch and play as soon as possible.”