THE POST-MATCH lap of appreciation had reached the South Stand and Emmanuel Latte Lath was thrust to the front to take the adulation. The striker danced as his name was chanted on repeat - and there in the background singing along was Luke Ayling.

How Boro have benefited from the bond of their star loanee and sparkling striker.

And how fitting that it was Ayling's name that was next to be chanted. It's going too far to put Ayling in the same category as the likes of Fuchs, Zenden, Bamford and Ramirez (before what followed), but the full-back undoubtedly slots in at the top end of the list of Boro's loan success stories.

It says everything about Ayling's impact that on the day Latte Lath hit his 11th league goal in 12 games, it was the Leeds United defender that will have been on the lips of fans on their way out of the Riverside - especially when news broke that his loan deal was "close" to being made permanent.

Both Ayling and Latte Lath deserve immense credit for their starring roles, not only in the final day victory over Watford but the superb end to the season,

A year ago, as Boro dealt with the painful aftermath of the Coventry City defeat, attention quickly turned to how on earth they set about replacing Chuba Akpom and Ryan Giles. Mission impossible? Perhaps not. With eight assists in 11 games, Ayling came just three short of reaching Giles' tally from the entirety of last season. And while there's no getting away from the fact Akpom was in a league of his own last term, of the Championship's top 20 scorers this season, only two - Jamie Vardy and Josh Sargent - had a better minutes per goal ratio than Latte Lath.

The striker's 18th goal of the season set Boro on their way against Watford, who he terrified. If the 25-year-old can carry this form into next season, he'll have every Championship defender running scared. Particularly if he has Ayling teeing him up again.

Latte Lath must have been as delighted as Boro's fans when Ayling told BBC Tees on the pitch after the game that a permanent move to Boro was on the cards.

"The way Luke gets up and down that side and his deliveries, he’s been terrific for us," said Carrick.

"Luke and Manu and their connection, that's all about their personalities and their willingness to hit it off, speak and understand each other. In the end, you get your rewards."


Boro have been rewarded for their recruitment flexibility. Ayling doesn't necessarily tick the boxes of the type of player Boro will prioritise in transfer windows but there's been a recognition of the importance of striking a balance, which Watford boss Tom Cleverley pointed out in the Riverside press room on Saturday afternoon.

"They're a really promising side," he said of Boro.

"They have some good young players but the balance with experienced Championship players is key, players like Ayling, Clarke.

"I really, really like the centre-forward. They have good tools."

They also have a head coach in Carrick has impressively come through some sticky and testing spells. Not only did he turn the season around after the nightmare start, he then kept it alive when it could so easily have petered out in the final months. After the grim Stoke defeat in March, Boro's campaign couldn't end soon enough. Now, after one defeat in their last 12, the general feeling is next season can't start soon enough.

It has undoubtedly been a season of transition, highlighted by one stat pointed out by Carrick after Saturday's game, which ended in victory thanks to Alex Bangura and Isaiah Jones' late goals after Wesley Hoedt had equalised for the Hornets.

“I think we’ve had 20 players make their debuts for us this year, which is obviously an incredible amount," said Carrick.

"Obviously there are some youngsters in that, but the amount of new signings coming into the club, it’s a lot of players when you consider gelling and connections and wavelengths with each other.

"I think the players have got to take a huge amount of credit for being willing to adapt and being willing to sacrifice themselves for each other. To finish the season in the way that we have for me epitomises that."