MIDDLESBROUGH head coach Aitor Karanka insists that the Teessiders can reflect on travelling a long way in his 18 months in charge despite seeing their promotion dreams dashed by Norwich City at Wembley.
Early goals from Cameron Jerome and Nathan Redmond accounted for Boro in yesterday’s Championship play-off final, with Norwich comfortably winning the richest game in football, with the prize for their 2-0 victory estimated at being worth around £120m.
Karanka was understandably disappointed with the final outcome, but feels the club have put themselves firmly back on the football map after six years predominantly in the wilderness.
He said: “When you lose a game, it is difficult and especially when you are losing the final.
“But I want to congratulate Norwich because they have got promotion.
“But I want to say how proud I am of my players, my chairman and my club because I arrived here 18 months ago and the team was two points above the relegation positions, with 12 or 14,000 people at the Riverside.
“We have showed everybody we are a Premier League club and my job is to return us to the Premier League again.
“We achieved to play here at Wembley as a team. And when we win, we win as a team and when we lose, we lose as a team.”
Confident Boro will be stronger next season, he said: “Of course. People told me that Watford took three years (to get promoted) and Burnley and Leicester.
“I prefer to look at how big a step we have come this season and from when I came here.
“We were not ready to play in the Premier League next season.”
Karanka refused to blame Boro’s team coach getting stuck in traffic ahead of the game for his side’s slow start.
Boro’s players did not warm up until around 2.30pm, but Karanka says their pre-match plans weren’t affected.
He added: “Against Brentford, we arrived at their stadium at the same time and we beat them 2-1. It is not why we lost.
“Sometimes, to be in a lot of time in the changing room, is more pressure.”