Aitor Karanka hailed ‘humble’ hitman Danny Graham after his brace ended barren Boro’s long goal drought.
The on-loan Sunderland striker stabbed home the opener in a 2-0 Riverside win over Ipswich to claim Boro’s first goal in 12 hours and 14 minutes of shot-shy labour, a club record.
After that relieved Boro carved out some good chances before Graham added a second just before the break with a superb glancing header from a corner.
After the first, Gateshead-born Graham played as if the shackles were off with some excellent movement in and around the box, winning balls in the air and linking up well with Boro’s attacking midfielders.
That goal was the end of a personal drought for Graham too. He failed to score in 13 games at Sunderland after his £5m move from Swansea last January and got just one in his 20 games on loan at Hull earlier this season.
And it was the first Graham had scored in his second spell at Boro. He started his professional career on Teesside, joining from Northern League Chester-le-Street and scored once as a teenager back in 2005 – a goal he doesn’t remember after being knocked cold as he stooped to head home a late leveller in a 2-2 top-flight draw with Charlton
Head coach Karanka was delighted for Graham, who he brought back to the Riverside on deadline day in January.
“I was very happy for Danny,” said Karanka. “He has worked very hard in the last few games without scoring and he deserved a goal.
“And after the first goal he demonstrated that he is a very good Premier League player. He showed exactly the kind of player he is with typical strikers goals from close range.
“He came here to help us and I know he had a long time without a goal before that.
“It’s good for him because strikers thrive on confidence and that will do him a power of good.
“He could be forgiven for thinking he’s more important than the other players here because he’s come from the Premier League, but he’s not like that. He’s a very humble hard-working player who deserves his rewards.”
And the boss admitted he was relieved to end a barren spell that has seen Boro drift away from the play-off place - but he insisted he was never worried.
“Finally the goals arrived and I’m very happy,” said Karanka. “I said that if we played how we did against Leeds in the last home game the goals would come and I’m very happy.”
Boro dominated from the off and went close several times in the opening spell as Emmanuel Ledesma played a good one-two with Graham only to fire wide then twice left-back George Friend over-lapped to get into the box only to scoop his shot over the bar.
Ipswich had a rare chance as a shot by ex-Sunderland man Daryl Murphy deflected into the path of unmarked Paul Green but he lofted high over the bar from 12 yards.
Boro finally ended their eight-game goal drought after 29 minutes as Mustapha Carayol drilled in a shot that keeper Gerken spilled and Graham rammed home from close range.
Boro then piled on the pressure and got a second just before half-time as Grant Leadbitter whipped in a corner and Graham glanced in a header.
The win moved Boro back within nine points of the play-offs. While they have not been scoring they haven’t been leaking either and have not conceded in open play in eight games.
If they can find a cutting edge the season may not be over.
BORO (4-2-3-1): Konstantopoulos, Varga, Gibson, Omeruo, Friend, Chalobah, Leadbitter, Carayol (Main 80), Tomlin (Butterfield 76), Ledesma, Graham (Kamara 71). Subs: Steele, Williams L, Atkinson, Morris
IPSWICH (4-4-2): Gerken; Chambers, Berra, Smith, Cresswell; Skuse, Green, Taylor (Ebanks-Blake 69), Tabb (Williams 71); Nouble (Hyam, 46), Murphy. Subs: Loach, Anderson, Hunt, Mings.
Ref: Iain Williamson (Berks) Att: 13,965