THERE'S no doubt Michael Carrick would prefer Middlesbrough to be better placed in the Championship as they head for Southampton this afternoon but the table looks an awful lot healthier for Boro than it did when these sides met back in September.

Then, Boro were rock bottom, winless in their first seven games of the season and had just ground out a draw at Sheffield Wednesday despite a dismal first half display that set alarm bells ringing.

It was a concerning time and at that stage - despite Carrick insisting he was calm and didn't doubt his side would turn things around - it looked set to be a long, hard season for Boro.

But the 2-1 win over Southampton - who had themselves endured an indifferent start to the season - was a springboard and a spark. It was the start of a seven-game winning stretch that lifted Boro up the table and had them believing that a play-off push perhaps wasn't a long shot after-all.

Inconsistency has plagued Carrick's side and that is why they head for St Mary's today seven points adrift of the top six with eight games to play, but there's no getting away from the fact that September win over Saints was one of the most important results of the head coach's tenure.

“At the time, it was a big win for us," Carrick admitted.

"I remember Southampton had a few sticky results going into the game but I remember saying going in that I had no doubt they’d be right up there because of the strength of the squad they’ve got. That’s kind of showing now as they’re right up there challenging for it.

"On the day, it was a good result. We had to work for it and the boys played really well. We’ll try to use it.

"You always try and put a positive approach on things. The fact we've have had a positive spell as well and still feel there is a lot more to come from us anyway whoever we play, it’s about what we can do to be better.

"It will be fantastic if we can go and get a result. We know it will be tough, but we know if we do get a positive result then it will give us a real boost."


Boro will take belief from their record this season against the division's better teams. Carrick's side have taken more points in their games against the current top six than against those in the bottom eight. Boro have picked up 18 points out of a possible 27 against the teams currently occupying the play-off places.

“The boys have adapted really well to different types of games and different challenges," said the head coach.

"The Chelsea (Carabao Cup semi-final) game we played well, the Aston Villa (FA Cup) game we played well in, different types of games in terms of the strength of the opposition.

"The boys have showed they are capable on any given day of playing against anybody and giving a good account of ourselves. We’ve beaten a lot of good teams. The key is putting that all together. I’ve said it a lot but consistency is key, it’s the magic ingredient if you want to be successful and that’s the bit we have to find to take the next step.

“Results are what get you places in the end. You can can’t always get the perfect result and you can’t always have the spells you want. There are certain times you can get away with it, but ultimately it needs to kick into gear.

"We haven’t been consistent enough throughout the season and that’s for different reasons and is reflected in where we are in the league at the moment. But, you’ve just got to draw on the experiences over the season and learn from them.

"We’ve got a lot of young players who are learning and developing and they’ll be better for it, I’m sure."

Today's hosts can't afford a slip-up. They're nine points adrift of the top two and although they have games in hand on those above, only victories will do for Russell Martin's side if they're to stay in the battle for automatic promotion.

Carrick said: "Southampton are a really good team, they make you work for it, they look after the ball, they rotate the workspace as well and you have to be really smart with how you play against them.

"They're a good team, they have attacking threats, they're dangerous, score a lot of goals and are right at the top of the league with a lot to play for.

"It's that time of year where you start to get to this stage where things can be won and lost quite quickly. We have our own things going on and are looking forward to it for our own reasons."