HEAD COACH Jose Morais is acutely aware that Barnsley are in a desperate dogfight to remain in the second tier.
But he believes he can coax enough out of his players in their remaining 10 games to keep their heads above the parapet.
The Portuguese is slowly adjusting to the cut-throat nature of life in the Championship.
Having managed and coached in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, a late winter’s afternoon on Teesside would certainly have been a new experience for the 52-year-old.
Make no mistake, for two-thirds of this contest Barnsley were utter cannon-fodder.
Middlesbrough dictated play and were opening up the Reds almost at will.
We need to show our quality from the beginning of games.Barnsley boss, Jose Morais
A goal after 50 seconds was far from ideal from the visitors’ viewpoint and a classy strike from Adama Traore soon followed.
A third goal was added for good measure after the restart, but it was not until Patrick Bamford slotted home to make it 3-0 that the visitors finally awoke from their slumbers.
It took a long-distance punt from Gary Gardner – Barnsley’s first attempt on goal – to urge Morais’s troops into life.
Darren Randolph parried the effort from Gardner straight into the path of the lurking Kieffer Moore and he reacted well to instinctively head home only his second goal for the club.
Barnsley were suddenly rejuvenated and could have reduced the arrears further, but for Moore’s header smashing against the woodwork.
Safe to say, though, that it was the final half-hour of the contest that had Morais believing that good times are on the horizon for his new charges.
“We were aware of situations that could happen, but for some reason we didn’t control the beginning of the game,” said Morais.
“To concede in the first minute gives you 89 minutes to play and come back into it. But, to do this, you need a certain strength that we didn’t show in the first half.
“I wasn’t impressed with the second half, I was more surprised by the first. The second half was what I already believed the team could do.
“What I wanted was for the second half to be how we played the whole game. We have to work on this to achieve the results that we want.
“We need to show our quality from the beginning of games.”
Boro had started this contest in style, taking less than a minute to open the scoring.
A long throw from Ryan Shotton caused havoc in the visitors’ area and Daniel Ayala was on hand to stab the ball home beyond Nick Townsend.
From the kick-off Traore had showed he was in the mood and after a handful of tricks and skills near the byline he soon turned on the style further by doubling Boro’s lead.
He collected the ball on the right-hand side of the area and a stepover was followed by a sizzling left-footed strike that left Townsend clawing at thin air.
Boro were guilty of overdoing it at times, but their dominance was unquestionable.
Townsend was at fault just after the restart as he flapped at a corner, allowing Bamford the easiest goal he will score this season – his eighth strike in the last five games.
Strangely that goal saw Barnsley burst into life and Moore’s goal soon followed.
Fortunately for the Boro, they had enough defensive nous, befitting a Tony Pulis outfit, to hold off the possibility of a major Barnsley comeback and they recorded a fourth successive victory at the Riverside.
Traore stole the show and Barnsley full-back and fellow Spaniard Daniel Pinillos had the best seat in the house for most of this contest.
Pinillos struggled against the jet-heeled winger who is quickly becoming Boro’s most valuable player.
But the Barnsley defender believes that the second-half showing offers encouraging signs for the remainder of the campaign.
“We had clear chances in the second half,” said Pinillos. “Middlesbrough are sixth in the table and, for me, they are one of the best in the league.
“We are much better than we showed in that first half. We are working hard and confident, moreso after that second-half showing. We need to keep playing like this.”
Barnsley remain two points above third-bottom Birmingham City and Morais now has three home games on the spin to navigate.
Norwich City, Millwall and Bristol City are all pencilled in to visit Oakwell before this month is out.
“I’m aware about what we need to do for us to be in a better position,” added the Reds’ head coach. “I take encouragement from the will the players showed in the second half.
“In the Championship, you have younger players with a will, with a goal in life.
“We have a young squad that want that and I want to lead this squad to believe that their place is still in the Championship. Being in the Championship next season is something possible for them to achieve if they really go for it.
“We can do much better and we want to do much better.”
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Friend, Ayala, Gibson, Shotton, Clayton, Besic (Baker 66), Howson, Downing (Crainie 83), Adama, Bamford (Assombalonga 90). Unused substitutes: Dimi, Fry, Johnson, Harrison.
Barnsley: Townsend, Pinillos, Lindsay, Jackson, Cavare, Gardner, Knasmullner (Isgrove 61), Hedges (Thiam 46), Williams (Mallan 76), Moore, McBurnie. Unused substitutes: Davies, Moncur, Yiadom, Pearson
Referee: A Davies (Hampshire).