Michael Carrick sets Middlesbrough promotion aim amid key decisions over loan players

The season may now be over but rather than an end, this feels very much like the start for Michael Carrick as far as this Middlesbrough side is concerned - which he admits is a very different feeling to this time last season.

When Boro's season came to end last term with the play-off defeat to Coventry City, there was very much a feeling of it being the end. After that game, Carrick revealed his talks in the dressing room about being proud of what was achieved and taking it in one final time, with the appreciation that the group was about to be heavily overhauled.

This season, however, with a new group assembled with a longer-term future in mind, Boro may not have repeated the feat of reaching the play-offs, but they have grown over the course of the campaign and end it in a really positive move after just one defeat in 12.

READ MORE: Michael Carrick's positive reflections on Middlesbrough's growth over the season

Speaking after the final-day win over Watford, Carrick said: "There’s a different feeling to the end last season. Of course, we have got loan players who we will have to make calls on. But certainly, there was a different feeling last season. It felt like it was a little bit of an end to something then, even if it was quite quick.

"This season, it’s been more carrying on a little bit of that, but also growing something. It’s a very different feeling. Obviously at that time, suffering a play-off defeat is not nice and the emotions were as they were. Now, it feels more like the start of something, and we need to keep building on that.”

As far as beginnings go, the Boro boss is clear in what he wants this to be the start of. With a year of experience for many of last summer's signings, and a year of growing as a team, Boro's aim is to add a little extra quality to the group in the summer transfer window and have a real push for promotion next season, which is where there are comparisons to the end of last season.

“It’s the same messages as then in terms of going away over the summer and then coming back ready to go again, fresh and clear in the mind," Carrick said. "We want them to look after their bodies and come back with a real focus on getting out of the league next season.

"That has to be aim and I’ve no worries about throwing that out there - that has to be what we strive for. The boys will be ready and prepared for that, going away in good spirits and knowing what we’re coming back to, which is important.

"We’re striving to challenge for promotion next season and we won’t hide from that. We had a good season last season but fell a little bit short in the end. We were close this season but had a lot more challenges along the way. There will be some big teams and tough teams in the league next season, as there was this season. But we feel we can compete, so we’re looking forward to it.”