MIDDLESBROUGH boss Aitor Karanka admitted his side failed to hit the heights of last weekend after Grant Leadbitter’s penalty snatched a 1-0 win at promotion rivals Brentford.
Boro arrived in west London fresh from their shock FA Cup success at Premier League champions Manchester City, but they found last season’s League One runners-up a far trickier proposition.
However, spot-kick expert Leadbitter’s eighth penalty from eight attempts this season was the difference as Boro kept themselves very much in the Championship promotion mix.
“It was a very important win against a team who are playing for the same position as us,” said Karanka.
“We played really well last Saturday against City so today wasn’t as good - but three points is the main thing for me.
“I thought after the City game it would be a difficult week, that maybe everyone would be more excited than normal, but the players worked very well and I thought we could play as well as we did against City.
“So it’s good for me that we didn’t play as well as we can play, but we can still beat teams like Brentford.”
Boro made the breakthrough in the 44th minute when Ben Gibson launched the ball forward.
Bees defender Harlee Dean let the ball sail over him, blissfully unaware that Patrick Bamford had run in behind and David Button charged out of his goal to bring down the on-loan Chelsea midfielder.
Button escaped with a booking but spot-kick expert Leadbitter punished the home goalkeeper further by sending him the wrong way for his 12th goal of the season.
“It’s important when you have penalties that you have a player like Grant, whose decision is 100 per cent,” added Karanka. “He’s the captain, he’s a bold character and he is very important to us.”
Brentford could have been out of sight before the penalty but were left to count the cost of a host of missed chances.
Andre Gray headed wide from in front of goal and Jota and Stuart Dallas were denied by fine saves from Dimi Konstantopoulos.
They could still have rescued a point in stoppage time but Dallas’ volley was deflected over and Konstantopoulos made a point-blank save from Jonathan Douglas.
“The difference was the penalty,” said Bees manager Mark Warburton. “We were the better team in the first half, we did everything but score. One bad decision from Harlee has cost us the game.
“Harlee’s a young player, You can’t ask players to be brave on the ball and not make a mistake. It was a poor decision, it cost us and he knows it, but he will learn from it.
“It didn’t fall our way but overall it was a positive performance.”