There was a wry smile when he said immediately after the 3-0 win at Brighton: "At least we can say that next season we will at least be in the Championship, we have enough points for that."

Slightly tongue in cheek maybe, but there was no doubting the sentiment behind the message: "It has been really difficult to get to this point and we have to keep going. This was a really good performance, but we have to keep going.

"After our defeat against Hull City (in early November) maybe people had doubts, but I said at the time and I say now it is impossible to go through the season without losing a game. Today was a big step, but the season ends in May.

"Today was a really good example of how this league is. I think the changes I made today from Tuesday was the key. I felt we were better and fitter, sharper, than them, they looked tired at times."

Such are the standards demanded by Boro's head coach that he gave his side a rocket when they were 2-0 up.

"When we scored the first goal I was expecting us to score the second. We did and then I felt we needed another, but we invited pressure. They (Brighton) hadn't gone on that unbeaten run for no reason and it was important to get another.

When Karanka says: "We are more mature, more confident this season," he is talking about the team, but he could just as easily have been talking about any of the players, including Kike, scorer of the first goal.

"Everyone knows how easy it is to leave the team and how difficult it is to get back in it. Six weeks ago I wanted to kill him, but he has reacted really well and I'm really pleased, not just for him.

"We don't have a lot of players, everybody knows they have to be ready and they will get their chance."

The win, one that extended Boro's unbeaten record at the Amex, was watched by Jose Mourinho who went in to the Boro dressing room to shake hands with all the Boro players.

"Jose needed to enjoy something after his disappointment," explained Karanka. "He wanted to have fun with a friend. He was at Brentford with us last season, so he is bringing us luck!"