Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka was delighted to see his side clock up a third successive Sky Bet Championship win – but insists they have not won anything yet.
Yesterday’s 3-0 Riverside Stadium win over Reading followed hot on the heels of a Boxing Day defeat of then leaders Burnley and a pre-Christmas victory at Millwall.
The hosts took control early on yesterday with an Albert Adomah strike, then Grant Leadbitter added a second before the break.
After Reading’s Kaspars Gorkss was sent off, the Teessiders comfortably claimed victory as Leadbitter scored a penalty.
That lifted bubbling Boro to within six points of the play-offs – but Karanka did not see cause to celebrate.
The former Real Madrid defender said: “Of course I am happy, we had a good game and worked hard as a team – and we won again and we can enjoy that.
“But I am not getting carried away yet. It is important for a team to win two or three games in a row. It gives you momentum and moves you up the table.
“But if anyone thinks that gives us anything they are wrong. We have won nothing yet.
“I still want more from my team, from individuals and from the group. There is still room to improve.
“It shows that we are capable of winning games and playing well. Now we have to work harder to do that every game.”
Boro took the lead with a sizzling strike on 12 minutes. Emmanuel Ledesma floated in a cross and Lukas Jutkiewicz twisted to nod down for Adomah to drill in his ninth goal of the season from 12 yards.
They almost had a second two minutes later as Adomah picked out Ledesma – but his shot flew wide.
Boro threatened again in the 18th minute as Leadbitter curled in a 25 yard free-kick and when keeper Alex McCarthy parried Jutkiewicz stabbed the rebound into the side-netting.
The visitors went close in the 20th minute as a throw into the box somehow evaded Ben Gibson and landed for the unmarked Jobi McAnuff – but his first touch was poor then his angled shot on the turn was weak and Boro keeper Shay Given parried.
Boro weathered a spell of pressure then broke out and went close on the half-hour as Ledesma sent Marvin Emnes to the edge of the box but his powerful shot was well saved.
Boro doubled their lead nine minutes before half-time as Ledesma robbed a defender then cut inside and rolled the ball square for Leadbitter to hammer in from 25 yards.
The Royals started well after the break but their hopes were dealt a blow in the 52nd minute as Gorkss fouled Ledesma to collect a second yellow card.
Reading continued to press for a spell and after a Garath McCleary ball from the right had forced Given off his line to palm away, Billy Sharp saw a shot fly wide.
But Boro gradually took control and went close to a third goal when Adomah fired just over.
Reading almost clawed a goal back when Given came out to punch clear a free-kick and it fell to Pavel Pogrebnyak, who poked it goalwards – but the alert Curtis Main hooked it clear.
Boro sealed the win with a third goal from the penalty spot eight minutes from time, Leadbitter calmly slotting home after Ledesma was brought down in the box by Alex Pearce.
Reading boss Nigel Adkins said: “We have not been anywhere near good enough today. We can’t hide from that fact. We started brightly but Middlesbrough countered well to score the first and I’m a bit disappointed with some of the decisions from the referee.
“Kaspars Gorkss has been sent off and I’m not sure the first was a booking and for the second he didn’t even touch the player.
“Was there a foul in the build-up to the second? Maybe. And the penalty seemed a bit harsh too.”