Middlesbrough history highlights how strong end-of-season form can positively benefit next term

Middlesbrough finished their Championship campaign with a smile on their faces.

The frustrating but entertaining Leeds setback remained their only defeat in their final dozen games, which was a tremendous way to complete the up-and-down season. What’s more, it offers so much hope for next term.

The players now head off for sunny shores in a positive frame of mind, and in the knowledge that the club intend to strengthen as much as possible during the summer. Boro have done exceptionally well to put this end-of-season run together, especially as it includes draws away to promotion-chasing Southampton and Ipswich.

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

And had Michael Carrick’s men not lost back-to-back games against also-rans Plymouth and Stoke City in late February and early March, they would have once again been contenders for the play-offs. There were two major problems this season. First of all, too many untested young players were brought in last summer.

As a result the squad needed several weeks both to knit together and to generate collective belief. Secondly, the injury list has been unprecedented. It is unimaginable that the club will suffer the same level of bad luck next term.

It hasn’t always been plain sailing but Carrick and the players have helped themselves by making a decent fist of things despite all the problems. Remarkably, if they had beaten Plymouth and Stoke like we all expected, they would have made the top six.

Anyway, it was not to be, with injuries and one or two weaknesses within the squad proving costly. The emphasis is about to switch from the players to the club’s officials, who must endeavour to ensure that we have a more fruitful summer this time around.

We know that it’s not easy to hang on to players who want to leave and we accept that some offers are too good to turn down, as was the case with Morgan Rogers. But it will be hoped that Boro work hard to keep as many of their best players as possible while adding experience in vital areas.

The players have at least laid solid foundations by beating Cardiff City and Watford in their final two games of the season. The fact that Boro lost several of their best players last summer had a negative effect at the start of the current campaign. So did the fact that the team did not finish 2022-23 very well.

Even though they reached the top six they did not win any of their final three Championship games, which was extended to five in their play-offs defeat at the hands of Coventry City. The poor finale did not help their play-off prospects, while more disappointment against the Sky Blues led to a loss of confidence for the players.

Last season, Boro edged into the play-offs despite defeats away to play-off rivals Luton Town and current bogey team Rotherham, while the season was completed with a 1-1 draw against Coventry. This turned out to be the only goal which Boro netted against the Sky Blues in the three consecutive meetings.

The most disastrous finale to a season came seven years ago when Boro were hurtling to relegation from the Premier League. It was 2016-17, with Boro’s only victory in the whole of the second half of the campaign coming in a 1-0 derby win against fellow relegated Sunderland at the Riverside in late April.

The run-up to Christmas had not gone particularly well, but the remainder was an unmitigated disaster. However, it had no bearing on what followed the following season because Garry Monk changed most of the senior squad, with Tony Pulis taking things on after Boxing Day.

Boro had finished the promotion campaign of 2015-16 like a rocket, being unbeaten in the final ten, including six wins. Yet Aitor Karanka made massive changes to his squad in the summer to prepare for life in the Premier League, and it didn’t really work.

Most of the lads who won promotion never had the chance to show what they might be capable of achieving in the top flight because so many new players were brought in. Yet when you look at how Sheffield United, Burnley and Luton have all struggled in the Premier League this season, it’s hard to know what to do for the best.

Certainly, it’s very difficult to make the step up and stay there. Possibly harder than ever. Yet you’ve got to strive to get there. This must remain the No.1 target for Boro in the new campaign.

Tony Mowbray’s team won their final four games of 2010-11, which set them up nicely for the following season in which they were in a promotion spot at the start of the New Year. The thinness of Mogga’s squad and the lack of options eventually took its toll. But at least it emphasised the benefits of how a bright finale can kick start the following season.

Steve McClaren’s men were unbeaten in seven of the last eight in the Premier League in 2004-05 and went on to reach the UEFA Cup Final the following season. But a bright finale doesn’t always pay dividends. Boro stuffed Manchester City by 8-1 at the Riverside at the end of 2007-08, with Afonso Alves scoring a hat trick.

We all thought that Alves would spark a great season the following year. Unfortunately the Brazilian suffered a personal nightmare and Boro ended up being relegated. This time it is going to be completely different. Over to you Boro!