Aitor Karanka was delighted to see his game plan start to click after Middlesbrough triumphed at Brighton.
His side had to dig deep in defence to weather heavy pressure from the play-off chasers and even wriggled off the hook as the Seaguills blazed a penalty high over with the game still finely balanced.
Yet Boro, frustratingly shot-shy of late, looked sharp on the counter-attack and scored good goals on the break from Albert Adomah and hard- working lone striker Danny Graham.
There was a sense of relief at Boro’s first away win in eight games since a victory at Blackpool in earlier January.
Yet there was also an air of vindication as Karanka saw his strategy of a tight defence, pressing and quick breaks pay off. He insisted the style had been close to bearing fruit several times during a long run of just one win in 12.
The Teeesiders’ boss said: “It’s a good win and very important for us.
“It was very important to win the game and good to get a clean sheet and we scored two good goals as well. We have played the same way in a lot of games but not scored goals and this was the big difference.
“We played this way against Leeds and against Sheffield (Wednesday) and QPR but did not take our chances. That is the difference.”
The defeat dented wobbling Brighton’s play-off hopes but was revenge for a 1-0 Riverside reverse in December, when Boro dominated but were caught with a late sucker punch.
Karanka added: “This time we were better than them.
“We were more confident and they weren’t the team I thought they would be. We were fighting each minute. We didn’t let Brighton play We had a lot of the ball and we knew we needed to go for the game.
“We are playing in a very high tempo and deserved a slice of luck when Brighton missed their penalty. I am very happy we won against a very good team. “
Boro had the best of the chances in an evenly- balanced first half in which both sides passed and probed patiently. Luke Williams, making his first start under Karanka, and Lee Tomlin had good low shots pushed behind at the far post. Brighton went close before the break when, after a scramble, Jozsef Varga blocked an Ulloa effort then, when the rebound fell to Lingard, Ben Gibson charged down his shot.
Brighton turned the screw after the break and piled on the pressure as Lingard fired just outside the far post and Andrews stabbed just wide from close range.
Boro broke out to claim the opener on 65 minutes as Graham hassled a defender into a mistake to steal the ball and sweep a low ball across the face of goal for winger Adomah to stab home his 12th goal of the season. Brighton again stepped up the pressure and won a penalty on 79 minutes as George Friend tripped March, but nervous Ulloa sent it screaming high above the bar.
The Teessiders broke out quickly again to seal victory on 86 minutes as Grant Leadbitter pushed a Williams cross to the left of the box for Graham to slam in an angled effort.
Encouraged Karanka saw positive signs. “It’s my first season in English football and I’m very happy because everything is new to me, ” he said.