Michael Carrick hailed a “complete team performance” as Middlesbrough ended promotion rivals Sheffield United’s long unbeaten run with a 3-1 win at Bramall Lane.
The Blades had not been beaten in 10 Championship games and looked on course to move 13 points clear of third-placed Boro after Oli McBurnie gave United an early lead.
But the visitors hit back to level through Chuba Akpom before Cameron Archer scored twice to give them a fourth straight win and cut the gap to seven points.
Boro boss Carrick was not focused on the maths in the battle for automatic promotion as he shared his pride in his team.
“I’m immensely proud of the boys – the whole group, to be honest,” the former Manchester United midfielder said.
“The belief that they showed, even when we went one down.
“It was a big challenge, coming here tonight. It wasn’t about the league position for us – it was about coming up against a good team on a great run. It’s a tough place to come to.
“Some of the play was top drawer and it looked a complete team performance in the end.
“I was just proud of the way the boys went about it, more than anything. To show that belief in each other and stick together.
“It’s easier to not play your football and then it’s easy to take the safe route and hope you get through it. I thought the lads believed in themselves and it showed.”
On his team’s chances of securing automatic promotion, Carrick added: “What will be will be – it’s just a case of playing games.
“Yes, we managed to beat them tonight but they’re a terrific team, with so many threats and so many good things in their team.
“I’ll not get carried away about the league position at all just yet. I’m only interested in performances and winning games as they come along.”
Paul Heckingbottom saw red after Boro’s third goal as he protested to referee Andre Marriner that James McAtee had been fouled in the lead up.
The Blades boss said: “I don’t like getting sent off and it was right that I was sent off.
“My frustration and anger is that we see that every game and I’m having conversations with referees all the time.
“We’ve got three real good ball carriers in James McAteer, Iliman (Ndiaye) and Sander (Berge), who are continually fouled. My point to the referees is that they’re going to have to go down.
“If Macca goes down, we get a foul, and the lad gets booked. I just hate the way the game’s going with that.
“We’re rewarding the wrong behaviours. That was the reason for my reaction, and it’s cost me now.”
Heckingbottom rued his team’s failure to capitalise on their openings.
“We weren’t at our best, however we still did more than enough if you’re looking at chances,” he said.
“Goals will always change games, you know. We missed our opportunities and we got punished at key moments.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub