DEEP-SEATED disappointment may have been etched on the face of Aitor Karanka on Monday tea-time, but the determination in his post-match utterances were also succinct.
Karanka was forced to pick up the pieces after Boro suffered a shattering blow as their Wembley hoodoo continued in a 2-0 loss to Norwich City – who emphatically won the £120m Premier League jackpot game – yet his thoughts were also of the future.
What does not kill you makes you stronger and while Boro’s season fell at the final hurdle in 2014-15, the quietly-spoken Basque is already planning for a promotion assault next term.
The whole of Teesside will be praying it arrives by the conventional route, with Wembley hardly a lucky venue; Boro have now not won in five outings there.
Karanka may have been outwitted on the day by Canaries counterpart Alex Neil, but the 41-year-old’s stock remains high with Boro flirting with the relegation positions when he arrived in November 2013.
Eighteen months on and he can put a play-off final appearance on his CV and despite being linked with various managerial posts, including that at Boro’s north-east neighbours Newcastle United earlier this year, Karanka is intent on finishing off the job and rewarding the faith of the inestimable Steve Gibson.
Fielding a question potentially doubting his future with a slightly perplexed response, Karanka, who also masterminded a famous FA Cup win at Manchester City in January, said: “Why not.
“I have one more year’s contract and when I came here, my objective was to put Middlesbrough Football Club in the Premier League.
“I said always that I couldn’t chose a better place to start my career and that is Middlesbrough.
“And after this season, I am thinking the same.
“I am at the best club, with the best chairman and best crowd.”
One thing Karanka can also be sure upon is that his players are backing him to finish off his project on Teesside if he remains at the Riverside Stadium.
Karanka has built a togetherness among Boro players that has arguably not been seen since the unforgettable days in the mid to late eighties under the revered Bruce Rioch and once the pain of Monday subsides, expect his squad to swiftly turn their focus to next season.
One of that number, ex-Leeds United and Huddersfield Town midfielder Adam Clayton is confident Boro will come back stronger next term – if they keep Karanka and the bulk of their squad.
Clayton said: “We want to play in games like Monday, so we have to take the knocks, go again and try to get into the Premier League.
“If we keep hold of the manager, then this club is destined to go to the Premier League.
“He is that good, he is a top manager and if we keep the core players of this group and (with) the work ethos we have got, then we won’t be far away.”
That said, some changes of personnel at Boro are inevitable, with top-scorer Patrick Bamford’s season-long loan now over, with the 19-goal striker bidding an emotional farewell on Twitter yesterday afternoon.
The smart money is now on Chelsea continuing his development by loaning him out to a Premier League side next term and not a Championship one.
The loan of another Boro forward, Jelle Vossen, also ended after Monday’s final. His future is also up in the air, with the club having not yet taken up the option to buy him for a fixed price from Racing Genk.
But Vossen, 26, is refusing to rule out a Riverside return.
He said: “I’ve loved my year at Boro, it’s been an amazing season.
“But I want to leave all options open. I want to thank the fans, and maybe we’ll meet again.”
On the final, the Belgian, who came closest to scoring for Boro with a thunderous early shot which hit the crossbar, said: “We made some mistakes and you can’t do that in a final.
“We did everything we could, but at the end of the game you have to say Norwich deserved it more than us.”