EVEN if Middlesbrough fall short, as looks likely, in their bid to make the Championship's top six this season, Michael Carrick believes his players will have benefited enormously from the obstacles they've faced in a "challenging" year.

Boro host Sheffield Wednesday today on the back of a five-game unbeaten run but the gap to the top six is now nine points and it would take a remarkable turn of events in the final weeks of the season for Carrick's side to secure a place in the play-offs.

While it's still mathematically possible, that remains the aim for Boro and Carrick. The head coach made that absolutely clear when he said there was "no chance" Boro had given up on their top six hopes,

But if Boro do come up short, Carrick believes his side will be well placed to come back stronger next term.

“It’s part of building the group," he said.

"We’ve had a challenging year and there have been some things where we could have helped ourselves better and sometimes things have been out of our hands.

"All the experience gained from it though, all the fight and heart we’ve shown, I think it will definitely serve us well going forward.

"It wasn't an easy one on Friday (at Southampton) when you’re mid-table, down at a team going for the top two in those circumstances. It would have been easy to let it flitter away and just put it down to being one of those days. But the boys have got a bit more about them and they showed that."


Asked whether he now has half an eye on next season, Carrick said: “There always is from my point of view, regardless of how it looks this season, I’m always in some respect thinking about next season. But there is absolutely no chance that we’re taking our eye off this season and more particularly the next game which is Monday."

Sheffield Wednesday were dealt a blow on Friday when Swansea equalised late on at Hillsborough, but the Owls are much improved under Danny Rohl and are only in the relegation zone on goal difference.

Carrick said: "They have certainly had a good run of results. They had a tough day at Ipswich (when they lost 6-0) but have everything to play for and are right in the thick of it.

"They've put themselves right in there. Credit to them for that. They're really well coached and difficult to play against."