IT was a chunk of games that started and finished with late winners.

In between Morgan Rogers' last gasp goal against Birmingham and Sam Greenwood's late stunner to beat leaders Leicester City, Michael Carrick's Middlesbrough had a hiccup or two - but ultimately emerged stronger having built on the fantastic run prior to the October international break.

Yes, Boro lost to Stoke City and only picked up a point at Plymouth, but Carrick's side closed the gap on the top six from four points to two points during the most recent run of games in between international breaks and secured themselves a glorious opportunity at reaching the last four of the Carabao Cup for the first time since winning the competition 20 seasons ago.

And they did so without a number of key players.

It's little surprise, then, that Carrick reflects on this latest period positively.

“I think there has been a lot of good," he says.

"We can’t expect to win every game. The Stoke game we were off it and we knew that at the time. The boys held their hands up and it just wasn’t quite enough from us.

"Going to Exeter and winning was a big win and getting some players some important minutes while progressing in the cup was pleasing.

"We’ve had a mixed bag. Last week (at Plymouth) we were disappointed with the draw but happy with the performance, and then on Saturday we get the reward for the effort all week. There has been a little bit of everything really, but all in all, we’re pretty pleased.  As the season goes, we’re building and building and we just have to keep pushing."

For a handful of Boro players - including four summer signings - this latest section of the season between breaks has been particularly pleasing and promising.

Sam Greenwood is the obvious plus point, having scored three goals in the five games.

Rav van den Berg had his best game in a Boro shirt against Leicester and it's of great credit to the 19-year-old that he's been able to so quickly adapt in a position he's hardly played in the past.

On the other side of the defence, Lukas Engel has put that nightmare start behind him with a string of solid and mature displays.

And while his only start came in the cup win over Exeter, Morgan Rogers has also showed some extremely encouraging flashes in the last month. He grabbed the winner against Birmingham before scoring a stunner and notching an assist against Exeter. It's only the consistency of those who've started in the league games that has prevented Rogers from getting a chance from the off in a Championship game.

It's also been a spell of games that Josh Coburn will reflect on with real satisfaction. The 20-year-old has firmly established himself as Carrick's first choice striker and has repaid the faith of the head coach with a string of excellent line-leading centre-forward displays. He was Man of the Match against Plymouth and built on that with a hard-working show against Leicester.


For Carrick, attention now turns to what's ahead. The players will be given some time off to freshen up during the break. The trip to Bristol City after the stoppage is the first of 10 games before the end of December.

What's not clear is when Boro will be boosted by the return of Darragh Lenihan, Marcus Forss and Riley McGree, who have all been missing since October. They're all big players to welcome back into the fold and it's credit to Carrick and his Boro players that they've been able to kick on the absence of the key trio.

After the high of Leicester, Boro frustrations that they now have to wait a fortnight for their next game would be understandable, but Carrick will focus on the positives that an international break brings.

“The boys will have some time off," he said.

"Some of the boys are going away to play and we wish them luck and hope they make the most of that and enjoy it. The boys not away will have a good break, take a deep breath and freshen up.

"We’ll use it in a positive way to rest up and then get back to it and look to hit the ground running again when we come back. It’s a great period coming up with a lot of games leading up to Christmas and just after that, so we’ll look to use that as best we can."