Alex Gilbert can look to Matt Clarke for inspiration on changing your Middlesbrough fortunes

Middlesbrough's Matt Clarke
Middlesbrough's Matt Clarke -Credit:CameraSport via Getty Images

Alex Gilbert has issued a telling message to Michael Carrick to make sure he is not excluded from the manager’s plans for the new campaign.

It’s been a difficult first season on Teesside for the 22-year-old, who has been forced to be extremely patient in waiting for his big chance However, he took his opportunity with both feet at Cardiff. He was involved in the majority of Middlesbrough’s attacking moves and weighed in with his debut goal.

He has now set himself a new standard and he needs to treat all future games as cup finals. There were suggestions during the season that Gilbert would be sent out on loan, but surely that’s no longer the case.

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At this stage, it might still not be easy for Carrick to find a definite role for Gilbert next season. He’s an attacking midfielder, but may not quite fit the bill as a No.10. The important thing is that he has shown Carrick exactly what he can do in a competitive game.

With a four-year contract under his belt when he joined the Boro last summer, Gilbert has time on his side. Hopefully he is now ready to go into overdrive. If nothing else it’s another name in the melting pot for Carrick as he hardens up his summer plans.

On the strength of his display at Cardiff alone, Gilbert deserves to come into the reckoning. While Gilbert impressed throughout, I could look no further than Matt Clarke for my man of the match. In fact, I thought it was his best-ever performance in a Boro shirt. He was absolutely immense.

He had every right to show his disgust just before the final whistle when Boro gave away that absolutely ridiculous goal. Clarke was unfortunate to pick up a major injury but has come back stronger than ever. He was clearly rusty when he first returned to the side, but has been growing in stature week by week.

With Dael Fry and Darragh Lenihan set to return next season, and the possibility that Carrick will bring in another centre-back, the competition for places in the heart of the defence could be more intense than ever. At the moment, Clarke must be at the top of the pile. If he can maintain this level of performance next season then he will be a big player.

While it has been assumed that Paddy McNair will move on, the battle for centre-back places will naturally include Rav van den Berg, who in many respects has been the unexpected discovery of the season. It’s reasonable to say that van den Berg might have been listed in the same category as Gilbert when he was signed, that is to say one for the future.

He was handed a regular first-team place, initially as a result for the horrendous run of defensive injuries and since then has been almost impossible to dislodge. No doubt Carrick is delighted with the way things are already shaping up defensively, especially with summer signings to come.

The manager has also taken the opportunity give youth its head and that’s great to see. Jonathan Woodgate was never afraid to pitch in the kids during his brief tenure as manager, and it’s good to see Carrick thinking along the same lines.

At Cardiff, Law McCabe in particular made a good impression, especially in the way that he was always looking for the ball and wanting to be involved. This displays a high level of confidence which suggests he has every chance of making the grade as a professional.