Neil Warnock urged Middlesbrough to do all they can to remain in the Championship play-off picture after a much-needed 3-0 win over Stoke at the Riverside.
Boro remain eight points adrift of the top six with 10 games to go, the first of which is a home clash with Preston on Tuesday night, and Warnock wants his side to build on Saturday’s victory.
Warnock was impressed by the way his side brushed Stoke side once Grant Hall had put them ahead in the 21st minute.
The impressive Paddy McNair added the second five minutes before half-time before substitute Nathaniel Mendez-Laing wrapped things up in the 88th minute.
Warnock said: “We had to win today. I said to the players we have to try to get wins on the board and I thought once we sorted the first 10 minutes – the system was cock-eyed, we changed completely – we were on our game.
“We dominated certain areas, broke quickly. Even in the second half we broke at pace and could have had a few more.
“Marcus Bettinelli made two important saves, it might have been nerve-wracking if they had gone in.
“We just have 10 games left and we have to win every game, try to win every game. We are capable of winning every game, but we are capable of losing them too with inconsistencies.
“There were some massive pluses today. We looked strong once we changed.
“Paddy getting that freedom and he finished really well for the goal. Mendez-Laing, I couldn’t have asked any more from him. He is working his socks off. Every day off he’s working and he’s not had much of a look in – 15-20 minutes here and there. If he gets up to scratch he will score goals.”
Middlesbrough’s goals inflicted a fourth defeat in five matches on mid-table Stoke and manager Michael O’Neill was frustrated at the way things panned out.
The Potters were the better team in the opening exchanges, but once Warnock changed the system and Hall opened the scoring there was no way back.
O’Neill said: “I’m extremely disappointed with the result. I thought we controlled parts of the game.
“But we defended the corner poorly for the first goal and then it was a difficult game for us. They will slow the game down. We didn’t defend it well enough. We just didn’t do enough with it.
“We had no cutting edge. We had nothing in the final third, it is very difficult to win the game like that.
“We had chances, the keeper made a couple of good saves, but we played them in. We didn’t have the guile or the quality to break them down.
“The third was poor. We made it easy for them. It’s a very frustrating day because up to that first goal we were clearly the most dominant team.
“Dominance doesn’t win you games unless you put it on the scoreboard. We didn’t create enough opportunities. We are in a more comfortable position than we were last year but we want to be a team that can challenge at the top end of this league and at the moment we are not that.”