MICHAEL Carrick says Middlesbrough's excellent form is a deserved reward for his players after their show of spirit in negotiating the difficult start to the Championship season.

Having come so close to winning promotion last season, Boro endured a rotten start to the current campaign, failing to win any of their first seven games. But Carrick refused to panic during that troubling spell and never lost faith in his new-look Boro team.

And his players have since shown that the head coach's belief was well placed. Boro have lost just one of their last 12 games in all competitions, are flying high in the Championship form table and signed off for the current international stoppage with an impressive 1-0 win over leaders Leicester City.

"The boys are getting what they deserve now," said Carrick, whose side are now just two points outside the Championship's top six.

“The boys have worked their socks off for each other lately, going way and beyond in terms of effort, attitude and togetherness. I said all along that would be important.

"And then of course, the quality of football as well. We’ve got to play to a certain level and I think it’s clear to see the effort and commitment that the boys are giving. We’ve found a good balance lately, and we need to keep that to keep pushing and keep striving for more. We’ve been building that from the very start of the season though. Even though results weren’t there, performances were largely there."


Even when results were disappointing and concerning at the start of the season, with Boro rock bottom with just two points after seven games, Carrick was adamant he was seeing positive signs and that his side's fortunes would turn.

A first win of the campaign over Southampton was followed by five further victories on the bounce, and although that stretch was ended by Stoke City, Boro picked up four points from the next two league games as well as booking their place in the last eight of the Carabao Cup, where they'll face League One Port Vale.

Carrick said: “Honestly, I could argue we played better in some of the games we didn’t pick points up in than some of the ones we did. That’s football.

"That's why we had so much belief even though the results weren’t going our way. The performances and the spirit of the group, it was only a matter of time before it turned. To go on a run like we have though, you can never expect that.

"As always though, what’s next is the most important thing. Why has it turned for us? We’ve maybe tightened up a little bit at both ends of the pitch, tightened up a little bit as a team out of possession and in possession being a little bit better."

Meanwhile, Terrell Agyemang yesterday returned to Boro after a short loan spell with Hartlepool United.

Agyemang, who joined Boro in the summer after leaving Manchester City, played five times for the National League outfit.