AITOR KARANKA described Saturday as the ‘perfect day’ after tasting victory for the first time since taking over at Middlesbrough.
After last weekend’s baptism of fire at Elland Road, Karanka made his home bow in front of an expectant and expanded crowd at the Riverside.
Over 23,000 turned up to witness the beginning of a new era on Teesside and they left satisfied thanks to Grant Leadbitter’s 82nd minute penalty.
It almost ended in frustration, though, when Rhys Williams conceded an 87th minute penalty, but luckily for the right-back and Karanka, Jermaine Beckford fluffed his lines by sending his spot kick high into the South Stand.
The win moves Boro up to 15th in the table, but more importantly it increases the gap between them and the relegation places to seven points making the table far better reading for Boro supporters this morning.
Saturday marked the dawn of a new era at the Riverside under the leadership of their first foreign manager and the Teesside crowd embraced the change even if the outcome was almost painfully familiar.
Thousands waved their red handkerchiefs as Karanka was paraded on the pitch before kick-off while Viva Espana was played over the PA system, and the Spaniard admits he couldn’t have asked for a better welcome, or result, in his first game inside his new home.
“It is the perfect day,” Karanka said. “I’ve waited for this day since I signed my contract. It is a dream day.
“First game at home and we win. Our people, our supporters were amazing and I felt their support today. I am grateful for that. It’s perfect.
“It was emotional for me to see them at the start and to walk out on the pitch, It was my first minute as a coach and at a club like Boro with the support, it was amazing and a very special moment for me. I will never forget it.
“It feels very good. It was hard work but when you work in a place like this – the players give 100 per cent, the supporters are always with the team and the club is behind you - it’s easier to work everyday.”
Despite the pre-match hype surrounding Karanka’s arrival, Boro’s performance had a distinctly familiar feel about it until Leadbitter broke the deadlock from the spot.
The Teessiders found it difficult to break down a resolute Bolton side that had lost only two in their previous ten games and even after they had gone in front late on, Boro almost shot themselves in the foot again.
For two weeks running, Karanka’s men have conceded needless penalties, but despite appeals that Williams’ foul was outside the box, the Boro bead coach admits such mistakes must be eradicated if they are to climb the table.
He said: “It almost went wrong. When they got the penalty I was thinking the same thing than the last game in Leeds because the penalty came from one mistake and we can’t make these mistakes.
“It was the same as last week. One mistake from our player. Last week we lost and this time, in the last five minutes, we almost lost again.
“I need to learn everyday because I’ve been here only two weeks. This is a squad that I have and I will go with them until the end, supporting them, learning with them and teaching them.
“I changed players and I am happy with the job they have done. We will train and get ready for the next game on Wednesday.
“All the teams are very close. We need to concentrate every minute of every game.
We worked very well at defending our goal and this is the way to keep a clean sheet.
We have a lot of players with quality to win the games.”
Boro kept only their third clean sheet of the season on Saturday, something Karanka knows his side must improve on.
It came with Shay Given in goal following his arrival on loan from Aston Villa on Thursday, and although he had very little to do, Karanka believes his experience and communication will help his side keep more clean sheets.
He said: “For us, Shay is very important because he has a lot of experience. He only came in on Friday because of our goalkeeping situation.
“I know the position is a specialist one and everybody understood the decision very well because they know he was the first and best option for us.
“He has a lot of experience and he didn’t have a lot of work but when he is in goal the defenders are calm because they know they have a good keeper behind them.”