DANNY GRAHAM is happy to be finding the net again but insists his main focus was always to lift Middlesbrough up the Championship – even if the goals failed to flow.
Graham scored during Saturday’s 2-0 win at Brighton for only the second game in 11 outings since returning to Boro on loan from Sunderland on January 31.
He would have preferred more, although head coach Aitor Karanka has been satisfied with the work-rate he has shown and the character to keep plugging away as the lone striker.
Graham’s performance at the Amex Stadium typified that, the difference was that he was rewarded four minutes from time with Middlesbrough’s second goal laid on by Grant Leadbitter’s lovely pass.
The 28-year-old said: “Sometimes it is difficult (as the lone striker). The gaffer sets out his system for the team, not for me to score goals. It doesn't matter who scores goals.
“As a striker I'd obviously like to score more, but the most important thing between now and the end of the season is this football club and not me scoring - as long as we're winning games.
“If we're playing like we did on Saturday, and we have a good run to the end of the season – crazier things have happened in football and we could still make the play-offs. We have to take it game by game and find that consistency, which might possibly give us a chance. We never give up.”
Graham’s confidence in the penalty area has taken a knock in the last 15 months having been unable to make his mark at Sunderland and then Hull City.
Prior to his £5m switch to the Stadium of Light in January last year his goals had taken him from League One to the Premier League in four years. At Sunderland, however, he was unable to show the goalscoring form he did with Swansea, Watford and Carlisle United.
That led to his loan to Hull City at the start of this season, but he only managed to score once for the Tigers which prompted Steve Bruce to accept the chance to cut short the season-long, enabling the Middlesbrough move.
“Everyone knew how tough last year was,” said Graham. “It feels as though I'm coming out the other end now, I've been training ever so hard. I train the way I play, I give 110 per cent in training as do the rest of the boys. It's paying off for me now.
“Everyone keeps saying to me keep working hard and I'll get the results and that's certainly the case at the minute. You always think there's a point where it's not going to be your day, and the last three games I've had not many chances at all, but you keep getting into those positions, luckily Grant found me and it's killed the game off.”
Graham’s goal, the other two arrived in the 2-0 win over Ipswich on March 8, helped secure a first away victory since January 11 and reduce the gap to the top six to 11 points.
Such a margin with only seven matches remaining has got supporters planning for another season in the Championship and the performance at Brighton highlighted what Middlesbrough are capable of.
“Brighton have a chance of going up,” said Graham. “There’s a couple of teams fighting for that final play-off place and we knew they were a very good team, but we deserved our victory on Saturday. We got a bit of luck with the penalty, but we certainly deserved to win the game overall. Goals have been hard to come by.”
Middlesbrough will have to make at least one change to the team when Steve McClaren returns to Teesside this weekend. Midfielder Dean Whitehead will miss this Saturday’s visit of Derby and the game with Birmingham after picking up his tenth yellow card of the season at Brighton.