BORO boss Aitor Karanka admitted he was already thinking about next term after his side ended their home programme with a win that relegated Barnsley.
Barnsley went ahead early in the second half through former Sunderland man Jean Yves M’voto to raise hopes they could pull off an escape, but Lee Tomlin levelled within 60 seconds before goals at the death from Danny Graham and Tomlin finally condemned the Tykes after a long season of struggle in the Championship.
“I said to the players that this was a very important game,” said Karanka.
“I told them it was not the last game of this season, it was the first game of next season.
“They have to work now for the future. We did well today but we can always improve and get better.”
However, Karanka also felt it was not the most polished performance as Boro squandered a string of chances and only sparked into life after Barnsley got the opener.
“It was not brilliant but we won and that was what counts,” he said.
“My players only woke up after Barnsley had scored. For the first 25 minutes I was disappointed because we had started so slowly, but after that we played with more intensity and created chances.
“If you do that the goals will come and for that I am happy.”
Boro’s first chance came on eight minutes as winger Adam Reach robbed defender M’voto on the edge of the box and rifled just over.
Barnsley went close on 12 minutes as Marcus Pedersen’s cross from the left was deflected and sent keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos full length to save.
Boro started brightly after the break but Danny Wilson’s Barnsley snatched an opener against the run of play on 53 minutes.
They won a corner and when Boro failed to clear Martin Cranie’s flag-kick it bounced through to M’voto, who hooked it beyond the dive of Konstantopoulos and inside the far post.
But Boro hit back within a minute as Tomlin seized on a loose ball on the edge of the box and drilled a a low shot inside the far post on 54 minutes.
Barnsley had a good chance on 78 minutes as a cross came in from the left for Nick Proschwitz to fire over when he had time and space to pick his spot.
Boro should have sealed victory on 85 minutes as Nathaniel Chalobah squared for Tomlin in the box but the keeper charged out to block.
But Boro grabbed the lead on 90 minutes when an Adomah shot was blocked and the rebound fell to an unmarked Graham, who slammed home from eight yards out.
And Boro wrapped it up three minutes into stoppage time as Tomlin played a one-two with Adomah to get into the box then drilled home.
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Varga, Woodgate (Ayala 41), Omeruo (Hines 67), Gibson, Adomah, Whitehead, Butterfield (Chalobah 60), Reach, Tomlin, Graham. Subs not used: Steele, Ledesma, Main, Morris. Booked: Gibson, Chalobah. Goals: Tomlin 54, 90, Graham 90.
Barnsley: Steele, Etuhu, Cranie, M’voto, Kennedy, McLaughlin (Rose 81), Lawrence (O’Brien 60), Dawson, Jennings, Pedersen (Proschwitz 60), O’Grady. Subs not used: Ramage, Cywka, Mellis, Turner. Goals: M’voto 53.
Att: 14,867. Ref: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).