The value of Middlesbrough supporters for Michael Carrick as he hails 'special' example

Michael Carrick is hoping to create one final positive moment with Middlesbrough supporters this season before preparations begin for next season - a campaign in which he is personally very excited about.

Boro host Watford to bring their 2023-24 campaign to a close. And while they can't achieve anything from winning the game as far as the bigger picture is concerned, their aim of wanting to win the game has been made clear, with Boro on a positive run of just one defeat in 11 games.

Having rewarded the loyal backing of travelling supporters last weekend with an excellent 4-1 victory at Cardiff City, Carrick is hoping they can have similar celebratory scenes with Boro fans at full-time on Saturday - with the final game of the season followed by the traditional lap of appreciation at full-time.

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Carrick said: “I think it’s always important to have that connection with supporters. When you’re winning games it’s a little bit easier because everyone is happy and smiling. It’s a lot easier for the players to play and the supporters to support in those periods. It kind of looks after itself.

"When you have a run of results when it might not have gone to plan, that’s when ultimately you see what you’re made of. I’ve personally enjoyed that this season - seeing how the boys have reacted and how we’ve come closer together. And the supporters have played a big part in that as well.

"It’s very easy when things aren’t going well to say I’m not good enough, the players are not good enough, but they’ve gone the other way and supported us. We wouldn’t be finishing the season like we have if we’d have gone through the season we had and everything was up in the air because of a setback.

"Hopefully they can see we’re trying to do what we do for the right reasons and that we’re giving it our everything - the players certainly do that. The away following - how many miles they’ve travelled and how much money they’ve spent - last week was a good one for us to show them they matter and we were able to share that moment with them. Hopefully we can put in a performance and try and get the right result so that we can share that moment at the end again."

Boro supporters will no doubt be out in force for the game, which has been themed 'retro shirt day', with supporter groups urging fans to wear their Boro shirts of years gone by to the game. There is expected to be a crowd of around 28,000 at the Riverside.

One of the 28,000 will be Roy Chatto, who turns 90 in a couple of weeks and will be presented with a signed shirt by the club before the game in the Fanzone at around 11.45 am. Originally from Middlesbrough, Roy now lives in Dunstable in Bedfordshire but attends every game home and away still with fellow exiled supporters in the south. His first game was at Ayresome Park in 1944 during World War II.

Made aware of Roy's story during Thursday's press conference by Fly Me To The Moon Fanzine editor Rob Nichols, Carrick said: “Wow, that’s really special. To have that love for the club and the team, and to give up that much to support us, it’s kind of what football brings. Obviously that example is extreme and is an incredible achievement. Well done to Roy because that is some going. Certainly, we appreciate that. That’s the beauty of football really."

The Boro boss is hoping to create more football beauty next season by building on the positive foundations of this season to guide Boro back to the Premier League next term. The recent form has brought plenty of optimism for supporters, and Carrick shares that with them.

“I’m really excited about next season," he said. "Every season is fresh anyway. We’ve got one game to play, so I don’t want to look forward too quickly. The boys this season have had a lot of varied experiences. Compared to where we started where experience for a lot of the boys was limited, there is a lot there in the bag now. Consistency and continuity in the group is important because the boys understand each other now and there is an unbelievable spirit within the group that will definitely help us drive on next season."

As well as the full-time lap of appreciation and retro shirt day theme, there will also be bucket collections outside the Riverside ahead of the 12.30 pm kick-off. Money raised from the buckets will be in aid of Henry, the two-year-old Boro fan who is fighting a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma.