Southampton v Middlesbrough FC: Michael Carrick says good formula, not defensive mindset, has kept Teessiders in Championship play-off hunt

Michael Carrick says Middlesbrough found "a bit of a formula" in March to keep their slim Championship play-off hopes alive, rather than improving by just thinking more defensively.

Boro kick off the final phase of their regular season at Southampton on Good Friday seven points outside the play-off places with eight matches to play.

As all three teams between them and sixth-placed Norwich City have a game in hand it will be tough taking their season into extra time for a second consecutive year but three straight clean sheets to round off a pre-international break run of three wins and a draw has at least given hope.

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They were the Teessiders' first Championship clean sheets since Christmas, and coincided with a formation switch to 3-4-1-2.

IMPROVEMENT: Middlesbrough coach Michael CarrickIMPROVEMENT: Middlesbrough coach Michael Carrick
IMPROVEMENT: Middlesbrough coach Michael Carrick

“It’s a massive element to the game,” said Carrick of his side’s new-found defensive strength. “It’s not just about how many goals you can score.

"But we haven’t exaggerated that (focus) over the last four games in comparison to what we have in the rest of the season.

"I think we’ve just found a bit of a formula, developed a better understanding and it’s all come together. We need to keep getting better at that.

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"Clean sheets help. It’s something we haven’t had enough of. We’ve found different ways to win.

"We tweaked the system a little bit and then tweaked it again last time against Blackburn after Marcus (Forss) went off but looked just as solid after the change.

"There is a lot of room for improvement at both ends, but the clean sheets give us the confidence and something to build on. If you can keep a clean sheet you only need only goal to win a game, and we’ll take that."

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