MIDDLESBROUGH head coach Aitor Karanka cut an emotional figure after Boro’s promotion was confirmed following an ultra-tense draw with Brighton - as the Teessiders were afforded a cathartic moment following their play-off final defeat at Wemley just 12 months ago.
Boro sealed a return to the Premier League on goal difference - by the narrow margin of two goals after a seven-season absence in front of a sell-out Riverside crowd and Karanka said after the game that he felt like ‘crying for 24 hours’.
Despite a 55th-minute header from Dale Stephens - sent off minutes later for a high challenge on Gaston Ramirez - Boro, who took the lead on 19 minutes through Cristhian Stuani - held out despite an incredibly nervy second half in which there were eight minutes of stoppage-time.
Karanka, who were hugged by his parents and family members amid memorable scenes following the final whistle, said: “With my emotions, I would like to be 24 hours crying. I’d like at this moment to say thank you to the chairman first for giving me the opportunity to come here two seasons and a half ago when I didn’t have the experience.
“I’d also like to thank the players and I know now more than ever that a coach is nothing without his players and the players have been amazing.
“When I was preparing the game today, seven players started with my me and the other people I would like to thank are the crowd.
“When I came here, I said this club deserved to be in the Premier League and thank God, next season they are going to be.
“We had really good motivation to work this year. The first one was due to Alex Baptiste’s (pre-season) injury because I told him it would give me more energy to work as when he suffered that injury, I said I was going to work as hard as possible.
“The steelworkers gave us inspiration and to be in this position is nice to help them forget their problems and I am really proud and the third inspiration was our friend Ali (Brownlee) because I knew he would be supporting us.
“They were the three motivations to work harder.”
On what reaching the top-flight means, Karanka added: “When I came here, I said we wanted to get into the Premier League and we are going to work hard to stay in the Premier League - there are good examples (to follow) like Watford and Bournemouth.”
Brighton manager Chris Hughton was magnanimous after his side’s draw with the Seagulls now facing a play-off semi-final with Sheffield Wednesday - with the first leg being at Hillsborough on Friday.
But Hughton admitted he felt incredible disappointment after Stephens’ red card - and says that the club are planning to appeal after seeing the incident on video.
Hughton, who expressed pride at his side’s second half performance, added: “There is a feeling of incredible disappointment that a red card was given.
“Sometimes, you go with what your gut feeling is at the time. I thought I had a very good view and my first impression was that it was nowhere near a red card.
“He won the ball and came away with the ball. My first impression was the referee was very close to it. There is incredible disappointment a red card was given because unless someone shows me a different angle from what I have seen, it was never a red card.
“What I didn’t know at the time was that initially he pulled out a yellow card and he was persuaded by his officials it was more than that and they were 35 or 40 yards away.”