FORGET any talk of Middlesbrough having nothing to play for in the final months of the Championship season. They might not be challenging to get out of the league at the top, as they'd hoped, but they may well face a fight to stay in it at the bottom.

If Boro aren't yet in a relegation battle then they soon will be unless form and direction quickly changes.

Only three teams - one being bottom club Rotherham - are below Boro in the Championship form table. Just seven games ago, ahead of the 1-1 draw with the Millers at the Riverside, Boro were just a point outside the top six and 17 ahead of the bottom three. That gap is now just six points.

There are still seven teams between Boro and the relegation zone but several of those sides will have long accepted they're in a scrap for survival. Boro can't ignore the reality of the situation they're very close to finding themselves in and drift towards it with their eyes closed - and yet the pitiful second half display at Stoke City on Saturday was deeply concerning.

It was undoubtedly up there alongside the first half at Sheffield Wednesday as the worst 45 minute display of the season. After falling behind to Bae Junho's opener five minutes before the break, a reaction was needed and yet Boro looked absent of ideas and confidence. Their only shot on target in the second period came four minutes into stoppage time, by which stage Stoke had long wrapped up the points after Lewis Baker's deflected strike from the edge of the area.

Home boss Steven Schumacher afterwards told of how Stoke could and should have had a couple more goals. A reminder here that the Potters had scored just 12 times in 17 home games prior to Boro's visit.


Boro have won just three of 12 games since the turn of the year, and two of those victories came after Carrick switched to a back three. That switch is what inspired the win against leaders Leicester.

It might not be the way Carrick wants to play in an ideal world but the head coach needs to find a way to get the best out of the players currently at his disposal. The approach he's persisting with isn't working.

There are issues at both ends. Boro have kept one league clean sheet since November and over the course of the last seven games have only once scored more than a single goal in a game. They've managed just three shots on target in the last two games.

And it's not like they've come up against in-form sides. Plymouth's only win in their last half a dozen outings came at the Riverside while Stoke were very much in crisis ahead of Saturday's game, with Schumacher said to have been fighting for his job.

Carrick would never have imagined six weeks or so ago that he'd be getting asked questions about the prospect of being dragged into a relegation battle but that was the case on Saturday evening.

"We have to be wary of the next game and picking up the next win as soon as we can and performing well and getting the right result," he said.

"That's the only focus for me. We have a cluster of games coming up over the next 10 days or so that we have to look forward to and attack. It's an opportunity to put things right.

“It doesn’t change, honestly for me. We’re aware of it, definitely. But the next game is always the one. We talk about the confidence and the belief, and of course it becomes a bit where you want that next result to come quickly for you. But in terms of the league table, it doesn’t change how we go into the next game.

"We go into the next game always with the intention of winning it. Wherever you are in the league, you’re always trying to win the next game. But there is a little understanding where we’re at at the minute and we’ll look at that for Wednesday night.

“The emphasis doesn’t change. It’s just on the next game and always is. But it’s vital now that we get back to picking up results and that will help with a lot of things. It snowballs quite quickly in both directions, so we need to pick up wins and we’ve got opportunities to do that pretty soon."

After the dreadful first half showing at Sheffield Wednesday in September, Carrick got a reaction and results. He needs to do the same again.