TONY Mowbray has vowed to brush himself down and go again next season – but just who will be on his teamsheet is very much up in the air.
The Middlesbrough boss saw his side’s season fizzle out on a soggy afternoon at Watford.
His squad came up just short despite an excellent start to the campaign.
And it will be interesting to see how many of those players will be part of Mowbray’s plans next term.
As the final whistle blew at Vicarage Road, the away side headed to the travelling fans to show their appreciation, with a few throwing their shirts into the crowd.
It will have been a goodbye for some with ten on the books out of contract, including high earners Barry Robson, who is heading to Canada, and Justin Hoyte, and more are expected to be released or made available for transfer.
“Ultimately it’s disappointing because we’ve been in the top six for 80-90 per cent of the season,” said a frustrated Mowbray.
“But we have to brush ourselves down and go again.
“We have to try to be as competitive as last year and a little bit better.”
It was supposed to be a day of last minute drama, of controversial decisions and do or die moments.
But the finale of a long season never really lived up to its billing as Cardiff City, who Boro needed to lose, ended up with a comfortable win while the Teessiders struggled on a sodden pitch.
Cardiff went a goal behind early to Crystal Palace on the other side of London and only a flurry of fantastic saves by Scott Loach stopped Boro going sixth momentarily.
Faris Haroun, Marvin Emnes and Robson all tested the impressive keeper in the first half. His imperious form made it clear that just winning at Watford was going to be hard enough without worrying about Cardiff.
As news of Cardiff’s resurgence at Selhurst Park filtered through, the powerful striker clipped a low Troy Deeney cross past Jason Steele to knock the wind out of Boro’s sails.
Watford looked the stronger side, even after Mowbray’s attempts to rejuvenate his side with Curtis Main and Scott McDonald entering the fold.
Deeney was causing all sorts of problems as Boro tried to push on for two vital goals and should have scored on a breakaway.
Just as it seemed that all hope had faded, Marvin Emnes popped up with a neat side footed finish from a Robson pull back with five minutes to go.
It struck the underside of the crossbar before finding the net in front of 2,000 hopeful fans.
A dramatic turnaround in fortune? No. Their happiness was shortlived as Deeney got his just rewards for an energetic display.
His shot also struck the woodwork before the ball and Boro’s fading hopes skidded across the line.
Dreams of a Premier League return were rife at the turn of the New Year with an energetic Boro pushing for automatic promotion places.
Yet a dramatic slide compounded by injuries has seen the team gradually give up on the top two before sliding down the play-off places.
A dejected Mowbray said: “The bottom line is from January 2 against Blackpool when a point would have taken us top, our points-per-game we haven’t done well enough.
“Like any teams in this league, if certain players get injured at certain times it hurts a little bit of the consistency we showed in the first half of the season.
“But everybody apart from out centre-half and captain (Matthew Bates) is now fit, and yet we haven’t been able to pick up the form of the start of the season.”
Watford: Loach, Dickinson, Taylor, Doyley, Nosworthy, Eustace, Buaben, Murray, Hogg (Forsyth), Deeney, Iwelumo (Mariappa). Subs: Gilmartin, Whichelow, Garner.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte, Bennett, McManus, Williams, Hines, Bailey, Robson, Haroun (McDonald), Emnes, Jutkiewicz (Main). Subs: McMahon, Thomson, Arca.
Ref: Hooper Att: 14,022.