Graeme Jones believes his side’s ability to bring the 12-match winless away run to end was born from an improvement in performances in the two most recent defeats - and that the Hatters are "right in the ball game" for survival in the Sky Bet Championship.
The Hatters had been beaten in 11 successive league matches, plus the FA Cup third round tie at Bournemouth, but gave their survival hopes a massive shot in the arm this afternoon with Ryan Tunnicliffe’s solitary goal proving enough to secure a second 1-0 win in four days.
Speaking to the press, the former Boro youth coach said: “I feel like it’s been coming. I think I look an absolute idiot sometimes when I speak at Nottingham Forest after a 3-1 defeat and 2-0 at West Brom and say I’m pleased with the level of performance, pleased with the control off and on the ball. I think we saw a result of those performances today at Middlesbrough.”
Jones made four changes to his starting line-up, bringing back Cameron Carter-Vickers, Martin Cranie, Luke Berry and Kazenga LuaLua in place of James Bree, Glen Rea, Izzy Brown and the injured Harry Cornick.
“There is always a plan and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said the manager. “I’ve got a group of players that I believe in. I’ve got a group of players that understand that in these three-game weeks, everyone wants to play but you need everybody.
“I don’t care about making decisions. That’s what I’m paid to do. I think I work hard enough to make a measured decision. If you’re guessing, then you won’t get football results. It’s the first time I’ve had everybody available, apart from losing Harry Cornick a little bit with his hamstring.
“So I’m really satisfied, but remember that the players have to come in and perform and you think about Cameron coming in. I know I got heavily criticised for leaving him out and we got a clean sheet on Wednesday night.
“Then you think about Matty Pearson playing right-back, think about Martin Cranie’s level – I’ve said for a long, long time, how much we miss Martin. Glen’s contribution over recent weeks has been magnificent.
“Then you think about Luke Berry, Kaz and that’s the definition of a team. That’s the definition of a squad. People are coming in, prepared to contribute. That’s all I spoke about at this football club at the beginning, and that’s where we are at the minute.”
Asked about the goalscorer’s improvement in the last two games, Jones said: “I believe in Ryan. You get to know people and he’s certainly got the talent. He’s certainly got the mentality. He’s got the experience for this level.
“For me, he’s been there from minute one. Not always great, not always bad, but he gives us a level. His performances have probably mirrored the team’s performance at times, in terms of getting to know the league, getting experience in the league, because you can’t do it on your own. But I believe in him and it was another really solid performance from him today.”
Ending the winless away run just before what would have been a club record-equalling 13th game in all competitions hadn’t entered Jones head.
“I don’t think like that,” he replied. “I just think, ‘Next game, let’s win it’. I don’t care where it is. I don’t believe in all those hoodoos.
“I think if we are measuring today, I tried to go a little bit more solid with Matty Pearson – a centre-half – at right-back. Matty’s somebody I know can play three games a week, like Pelly-Ruddock, like Ryan Tunnicliffe. Sonny played two, Cam played two. Dan Potts was a bit of a gamble at three. Couldn’t risk Glen, couldn’t risk Izzy, so it’s getting the balance of your squad right.
“But it’s about people contributing. James Collins is robust. The satisfaction with the level of performance, effort and the mentality, is really satisfying today.”
And finally, on the Town’s chances of staying up having moved to within four points of safety with 13 matches to go, Jones believes his side are “right in the ball game”.
He added: “Somebody came in and said ‘What did Wigan do? What did so-and-so do?’ I’m not interested. It’s about us winning football matches and it’s game on.
“It’s very different when the momentum is going that way (gesturing upwards) than when it’s coming that way (downwards). I said to you that when we had everybody fit, we’d be competitive, and that’s what’s happened.
“Brentford away has hurt us a lot. But we’ve kept level-headed as a club. We’ve recovered from it, and let’s see where it takes us.”