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Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick believes his side had to “suffer” to earn a 1-0 win against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semi-finals.
Hayden Hackney capitalised on missed Chelsea chances, scoring in the 37th minute to hand Boro a valuable advantage going into the reverse fixture at Stamford Bridge on January 23.
His goal came after already-depleted Boro were forced into two early changes, with Emmanuel Latte Lath and Alex Bangura taken off with injury in the opening 20 minutes.
They defended well to ensure they are now one leg away from the final of the competition they won back in 2004 and Carrick urged his side to enjoy the victory.
He said post-match: “Listen, it’s very special.
“There’s totally two sides to this one: there’s the game tonight and what we had to go through and suffer a little bit to find a way to win, and there’s obviously the fact that there’s another game.
“I have to credit the players and celebrate their performance and effort, because it’s not easy at all to beat a team like that with the quality that they’ve got and to suffer the kind of injuries that we had as well early on – as if we didn’t have enough injuries to start with.
“Tonight was a really special night, the atmosphere, Hayden scoring, it was such a good night for us, so we’ve got to take that as a one-off and enjoy that to be honest. The second leg is a whole new ball game and we know what we’re walking into and he challenges we face.”
Dan Barlaser’s long pass played Isaiah Jones in behind Levi Colwill to cross into Hackney, who stuck out a leg to stab past Djordje Petrovic.
Carrick said: “Honestly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer lad.
“He’s everything we could ever hope for in a player – he’s humble, he’s hard-working, he’s hugely talented, obviously, and great to work with.”
Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino believes his side were “not clinical enough” as they wasted a trio of brilliant chances in the first half.
Cole Palmer fired wide just before Hackney put Boro ahead then had two more chances, firing over the bar after Tom Glover spilled Enzo Fernandez’s effort before failing to beat the keeper after cutting in from the right.
Pochettino said: “I think we made some mistakes in the first half and we were punished for that.
“We created big chances and we didn’t score, we were not clinical enough, that is so clear.
“We have to credit of course Middlesbrough, it’s the first 90 minutes in the first half of the tie.
“We are losing 1-0 but in two weeks we are going to have the second tie and we need to be positive we can win the game and go to the final.”
Pochettino also refuted suggestions Chelsea players had been booed off the pitch by their visiting fans.
“The fans were reacting with the fans, with Middlesbrough fans, not with our players,” he added.
“Our fans were fantastic as they support us but I think it was Thiago (Silva) and some players, what I hear is they were trying to calm our fans because I think there was a problem between the fans, not between our fans and our players.”