Middlesbrough proved they are ready to compete in the Premier League with their 2-1 victory over Sunderland, according to head coach Aitor Karanka.
After beginning their campaign with a 1-1 draw at home to Stoke City last weekend, Boro secured their first win of the season at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.
Cristhian Stuani opened the scoring with a sensational 25-yard strike in the 13th minute before adding his second to round off an excellent team move on the stroke of half-time.
Patrick van Aanholt pulled one back for Sunderland in the second half but Boro held on for the victory, their maturity elating Karanka despite a relative lack of top-flight experience.
“The most important thing as always is the points. It’s always important to win, especially in a derby and for our crowd who have been waiting for this moment for a long time, so I’m pleased for the players and the crowd,” Karanka said in a post-match interview.
“The key was the first half. I told the players they would start at 150 per cent but with players of the quality of Cristhian Stuani we were able to score a first goal like that which opened up the game.
“The players showed we are ready for the season. We are playing well, compact and with intensity so it was important to get points as quickly as possible.”
Stewart Downing was disappointed with Boro’s drop off in the second half, though he praised their defensive efforts after the interval.
“We started ever so well. We played well in the first half but second half we made it hard for ourselves. We could’ve pushed on but credit Sunderland for coming back into it,” Downing told Sky Sports.
“It’s a massive three points for us. Right throughout the team I thought we defended well, especially in the second half. I was disappointed we conceded because we defended ever so well.
“It was a sloppy goal on our part but it was three points for us and that’s four now so that’s very good.”
Adam Clayton praised Alvaro Negredo – who assisted both goals – and Stuani for their composure in the final third, which proved crucial to the win.
He said: “Calmness in front of goal when we got the chance [was key]. It was a great strike from Cristhian and obviously Alvaro for the second one was good in the box.
“We were clinical when we got the chance and we saw it out in the second half. I think it shows you when we get a chance – if we get it up to the big man [Negredo] – he’s going do something with it.
“We’ve got goals in the side, so we’ve always got a chance and we can take heart from that.”