SPANISH striker Kike was the match-winner at the Macron Stadium tonight and Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka admits he now has a squad capable of reaching dizzy heights in the Championship.
The £2.7m signing from Real Murcia scored for the third game in four since his arrival last month to help defeat Bolton 2-1 to secure a second win in three league fixtures for Boro.
Kike has already become something of a fans' favourite on Teesside after his bright start to life at the Riverside Stadium and he enhanced his reputation with the winner even if he did not play as well as he can.
The 24-year-old was given a tough night by Bolton’s defence yet he still came up with the goods 12 minutes from time when he latched on to Adam Reach’s pass – and Karanka thinks his summer recruit will bring the best out of his team-mates.
“It was important for him to keep going,” said Karanka. “It gets him more confidence because he was fighting with the defenders and yet he got that chance and scored a goal. It was important for him on a tough night.
“Strikers are big on confidence, but it was also good for the team because they know he can score. Everyone knows how important he is for the team. He is very important because the other lads know that when we work, create one chance, Kike will be there to score.
“He has only been with us one month and he knows how difficult the competition is in the Championship now. We have a better squad this year, with better players. With these kind of players we can be at the top.”
Middlesbrough did not have it all their own way and had work to do after Craig Davies put Bolton ahead from the penalty spot in the 25th minute.
Trotters boss Dougie Freedman called it a “shocking decision” that Seb Hines was not red carded for the trip on Davies in the area.
But Karanka said: “The referee was there. I was on the bench. We had a goal disallowed from Albert Adomah on Saturday at Leeds, so some decisions go for you and some don’t.”
What Karanka wanted to focus on was his own team’s display after Middlesbrough recovered to level on the stroke of half-time courtesy of a penalty from Grant Leadbitter.
Then Kike delivered the winner 12 minutes from time to ensure Middlesbrough won for the first time ever at Bolton’s new ground; it was the first victory at Bolton since 1987.
“I got told that but the most important thing was we got three points,” said Karanka. “We need to have strong character and a strong team. Everyone was working until the last second and we want that every day from this team.
“There is more to come. My target, focus, is to play, like we did. The game was more difficult because of the long balls in the end. They had 6ft players and it was difficult but when you are not playing well, or the way you want, you have to win the game and we did. It was pleasing.”
Karanka indicated he is still waiting to hear from Patrick Bamford about whether he will complete a loan move from Chelsea. He did, though, explain the thinking behind allowing defender Christian Burgess and midfielder Richie Smallwood to move on.
Burgess has signed a four-year deal with Peterborough and Smallwood completed a £175,000 switch to Rotherham.
Karanka said: “They are both young players, both very good lads. They were training with us for pre-season and I like them both. For them it is better to play.
“They have a very bright future but with the team as it is they were not going to have many chances with me. They deserved the best so I let them go.”