Aitor Karanka will keep faith with the youthful central defensive partnership of Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo – insisting that ability is more important than age.
With Middlesbrough suffering injuries to centre-backs Jonathan Woodgate, Daniel Ayala and Seb Hines, 21-year-old Gibson and Omeruo, a year his junior, have been paired together for the last two games.
In those outings against Ipswich and Nottingham Forest, Boro have conceded just one goal – and that a hotly-disputed equaliser from Forest’s Darius Henderson in midweek, which appeared to be handled by the striker.
Boro manager Karanka has been impressed by the performances of Gibson and Omeruo, and is set to play the duo again at Bournemouth this afternoon.
He said: “I’m not concerned with age.
“I’ve worked with the Spanish under-17 team and I like to work with young people.
“Veteran players have more experience but if I can choose between a veteran or a young player I’ll choose whichever one is better for the team – age doesn’t matter.”
Nigeria international Omeruo is on loan at the Riverside from Premier League leaders Chelsea, joining in January along with fellow Blues man Nat Chalobah.
Karanka added: “He (Omeruo) has taken his chance and is playing every week.
“Each game he plays better and it’s very important for the squad and for me and for his future.
“It’s very important for them (Omeruo and Chalobah) to play.
“If they came on loan and didn’t play for four months it would be bad for them, for me and for Chelsea.
“I’m happy they’re playing and playing well but they need to improve because they’re young players.
“If they want to play for Chelsea in the Premier League they have to be better – but they have potential.”
Boro go into today’s game on the south coast looking for their first win in five away games, having picked up just a point from their last four games on their travels.
The Teessiders are 13th in the table, just one place and one point behind the Cherries – although Boro have played one game more.
Bournemouth have won their last three games, with Karanka in attendance at Blackburn on Wednesday to see their 1-0 victory at Ewood Park.
He said: “They’re a very well organised team and they’re playing well at the moment and so we need to go and work hard if we want to win the game.
“They try to play football and are very well organised when they don’t have the ball.”
Boro went seven games without scoring but have now found the net in their last two outings, Danny Graham scoring both goals in last weekend’s 2-0 win over Ipswich Town and then Mustapha Carayol scoring in the 1-1 draw against Forest on Tuesday.
Karanka added: “We have to play like we can and do what we did in the second half against Nottingham Forest.
“The goals have finally arrived – Danny [Graham] scored two and Muzzy [Carayol] scored another one – so we should be more confident.
“I was happy with the team in most of the last seven or eight games.
“I didn’t like the team when they played against Sheffield Wednesday, Watford and Doncaster.
“However, I was happy with them in the rest of the games against Blackburn, Leeds, Ipswich and Nottingham Forest.”
Karanka is hoping Lee Tomlin will recover from an ankle injury in time to play this afternoon after he limped off against Forest.
However, the forward’s chances are rated 50-50 at best.
Boro will definitely be without Woodgate (calf), Ayala (ankle), Hines (thigh), Tomas Mejias (dislocated finger), Rhys Williams (achilles) and Stuart Parnaby (knee).