Farewell to Middlesbrough's 2023-24 - you won't be missed but you'll hopefully prove invaluable

Farewell to Middlesbrough's 2023-24 campaign. In truth, it won't really be missed, but it will hopefully prove to be an invaluable step for the club in eventually realising their ambitions of making it back to the Premier League.

It was during a final appearance on BBC Radio Tees' Wednesday night Journalist's panel last week that I first started considering my review of Boro's season. The question asked of me was simply, 'Have you enjoyed this season?' and, in the moment, it was a question I struggled to answer.

With more reflection, I guess my answer is that I have and I haven't. I certainly still enjoy the privileges of this job and the continued interaction with Boro supporters as we passionately dissect and debate the ups and downs. I've enjoyed the last 12 games as Boro turned around their poor form at the start of 2024 to finish the season strongly. It was fun too, to go on a cup run that culminated in two huge nights against Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semi-final.

READ MORE: Michael Carrick sets Middlesbrough promotion aim as he declares this the beginning not the end

With a desire as strong as every Boro fan to see the club achieve success and make it back to the top flight, however, I've not enjoyed the inconsistent form until the final 12 that ultimately saw Boro fall short of reaching the play-offs. Given the hope we all carried into the season after the run to the play-offs last term, this hasn't been the season anybody wished for.

There is far more context behind that, of course. That side that made the play-offs was ripped apart last summer due to the high dependency on loans and the precarious position Chuba Akpom's contract situation left them in. Boro lost six key players then, lacked depth, but only actually made money on the sale of one player.

It left them needing to do things a little differently last summer and in bringing 12 new players to the club, it was largely young and inexperienced prospects or so-called hidden gems from cheaper foreign markets that Boro targeted, over the ready-made Championship stars that would have ultimately drained club finances even more.

The result of that was a disastrous start to the season that saw Boro second bottom after seven games, without a league win while already halfway through September. Not for the first time, a slow start to a campaign has ultimately proven so costly.

In Michael Carrick, you can argue they have the perfect man for the circumstances they found themselves in, however. Calm and full of belief, even all this time on he still feels they deserved more from those early games as far as performance-levels were concerned.

That belief would pay off and things turned with six straight wins that at the very least cancelled out the poor start, but still left Boro with work to do. Unfortunately, it was during this period, however, that the major story of the season started. Injuries.

Both internally and externally, there has been so much talk and analysis done to try and ascertain why. But ultimately, the club's own findings are that, as can sometimes unfortunately happen in football, Boro have just had rotten luck with injuries. In a campaign in which they're up across the board, Boro have spent much of the season from October onwards with ten-plus players absent for each game.

When considering the kind of players missing too - key men like Tommy Smith, Darragh Lenihan, Riley McGree and Marcus Forss - few clubs would have ultimately achieved as much as Boro have in the circumstances. To reach a cup semi final and finish just four points off the play-offs isn't bad at all in the context, but it's not what any of us hoped for.

The inconsistency in team selection that injuries brought, created an inconsistency in results too. The start to 2024, particularly after the humbling Chelsea defeat and subsequent sale of emerging prospect Morgan Rogers, started to get concerning. The defeat at Stoke City at the start of March left them just six points off the drop zone and was their fourth defeat in five games.

Proving they have will to win and determination aplenty, however, just days later, and helped initially by a red card that was later rescinded, they beat Norwich City to start what was a really positive and hope-inducing 12-game run to end the season.

And so, with a hint of disappointment that it didn't work out as hoped, but, in the context, plenty of optimism for what is to come, that's where we sign off for 2023-24. In some ways you're left wishing the season could have just been a month or so longer to give Boro the time. Alternatively, you're left relieved it's now over, enabling the restart that will hopefully bring a change in injury luck after a well-needed break.

If there's one thing the injuries did, it's provide players with opportunities to play more than maybe expected or wanted. Rav van den Berg has grown to become one of the best defenders in the division. Isaiah Jones has got himself back to an exciting level and Finn Azaz has had time to bed in and set himself up nicely for next season. And Emmanuel Latte Lath... well he smashed 11 goals in 12 games and will go into next season with his confidence sky high. Many more will be better for being one year and many games more experienced.

This wasn't the season Boro wanted, but it can still prove an invaluable one. Not looking likely to be ripped apart this summer like last, this season has ultimately proven one of transition and growth for Boro, both individually and as a collective. That will hopefully, with the right additions in the summer, leave them so much stronger next season.

It was hard to argue with Carrick's excited, forward-thinking sentiments after the curtain-closing win over Watford on Saturday. This feels like a beginning for Boro rather than an end.