Aitor Karanka hailed his makeshift Middlesbrough side after a backs-to-the-wall performance at Premier League pretenders Burnley.
The Boro manager was without three of his regular back four and was forced into radically changing from his rigid shape but the patched up Teessiders won 1-0 to put the Clarets’ promotion party on hold.
With Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo banned and George Friend injured Karanka switched from his usual rock solid 4-2-3-1 formation to 3-5-2 with the three at the back including midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah and Spanish stopper Daniel Ayala back after eight week out injured and Jonathan Woodgate who only returned in midweek after a long spell on the sidelines.
But the hastily assembled rearguard put in a superb display of tackling, blocking and closing down under pressure while Greek shot-stopper Dimi Konstantopoulos pulled off a superb string of saves to keep at bay a buoyant Burnley side who needed to win to seal promotion.
The Clarets had a bumper crowd who were set for a coronation and the team attacked from the off in an expectant atmosphere.
Boro had to ride their luck at times as assertive Burnley rattled the woodwork and twice had compelling penalty claims waved away but they broke out to snatch victory as Jacob Butterfield scored the winner out of the blue for the second game running.
“I’m very proud of my players,” Karanka said.
“We finished the last game with nine players and so we had suspensions and with players coming in who haven’t played for months, like Dani and Woody, it was difficult so I’m very happy to beat Burnley for the second time this season.
“I felt that with three defenders was the best shape to start the game but after 60 or 70 minutes I switched to our normal shape, 4-3-2-1 like always, because they were attacking a lot. This shape or that shape, the most important thing is to win.”
After four wins on the spin Boro are now just six points from the play-off places with all the bottom three to play in their final four fixtures.