AITOR KARANKA thinks Danny Graham showed his true quality in helping Middlesbrough finally end more than 12 hours without a goal – and then urged him to keep going.
Graham's delightful first half double stopped the rot after seven matches without a win with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Ipswich Town on Saturday.
The brace marked the Sunderland striker's first goals since arriving on loan on January transfer deadline day, bringing an end to his own personal drought in front of goal since scoring for Hull at Swansea on December 9.
While Graham has turned in a number of encouraging displays since returning to Middlesbrough, where he started his professional career, he has still been frustrated with his lack of goals.
But that changed against Ipswich and Karanka, whose side face Nottingham Forest tomorrow night, said: "He demonstrated he is a Premier League player and he has come to help us and to show what he can do. He is working very well in training sessions and in the games and I'm happy for him. "Finally, the goals arrived and I'm very happy. Firstly, our supporters deserved to see us scoring goals and winning. Secondly it's great for my team to have reward for their hard work.
"It's good for Danny to score because strikers thrive on confidence and that will do him a power of good.
"He showed exactly the kind of player he is with typical strikers goals from close range. I'm happy for him because he deserves to score. He's been here for just over a month, he could be forgiven for thinking he's more important than the other players here because he's come from the Premier League, but he's a very humble hard-working player who deserves his rewards.”
Middlesbrough's lack of goals since the turn of the year has seen their play-off chances seriously plummet. The return to winning ways, though, brought a smile back to Karanka's face having waited 12 hours and 13 minutes to see his side score again.
Boro are nine points shy of the top six and it would seem unlikely that they can reduce that deficit to the top six in the remaining 12 games of the season, particularly when seventh-placed Wigan have two games in hand.
But Karanka is not thinking about the top six. Instead he wants his players to concentrate more on turning in match-winning displays similar to that which earned Middlesbrough the points against Ipswich.
“It's another clean sheet which is pleasing, we've had quite a few this season and that's with four different keepers so it's credit to them and the defence,” said the Spaniard, who will have Dean Whitehead available after suspension to face Nottingham Forest tomorrow night.
“When we play like a team, like we did here, we can beat anybody. We've got Forest coming up now, one of the best teams in the league, and we've got to keep working hard to ensure we compete with teams like this. We've been creating chances for the last few games and finally got our reward.”
One of the key reasons Middlesbrough overcame Ipswich was Mustapha Carayol's performance on the wing. Karanka had overlooked him in the last couple of weeks because of an 'attitude' problem.
But after working hard on the training ground, Carayol returned to the starting line-up and he was a constant menace to Ipswich full-back Luke Chambers. His run and shot actually led to Graham's first goal in the 29th minute.
Karanka said: “Maybe I didn't explain very well when I said about his attitude, it's his way of trying I was talking about. I'm very happy to have him back and also with the way he played against Ipswich.
“I was happy with his reaction on the training ground. When the players play well it is a victory for the team and that is the most important thing. Not individuals.”