With Middlesbrough's season winding down, Aitor Karanka will be planning for the future at home to Birmingham City tonight.
Sixteen points above the Championship relegation zone, but 11 from the play-offs, Karanka’s team-sheet this evening will be based as much on the long-term as the future.
Luke Williams, Ben Gibson, Mark Kitching, David Atkinson and Curtis Main are all aged 21 or younger, and all featured in the squad for Saturday’s win over Steve McClaren’s Derby County.
“It doesn’t matter about the age, we are playing a lot of young players,” said Karanka.
“Luke is young, he has quality and personality and I’m very happy with him and his performance.”
WIlliams, a 20-year-old forward who had a loan spell with League Two Hartlepool United this season, has featured in the last three games while 21-year-old Gibson has only missed one of the last 13.
Nineteen-year-old Nathan Chalobah is also thinking about next season – even though he may well be back at Chelsea by then.
“It’s easy to say there is nothing to play for at this stage and we’re just seeing out the season now but that’s not how we see it,” said the youngster on a half-season loan. “For the players, the backroom staff, all the people who work for the club it is far more than that.
“As far as we are concerned we are playing for pride, playing for the club, playing for ourselves, and playing for all the people who turn up every week to watch us.
“So we can go into the last six games with a lot of confidence and plenty to play for. It’s important we finish in a strong position because that leads on into next season.”
Despite that, Chalobah says he has not given much consideration to whether he will be back at the Riverside for it.
“I don’t know,” said the midfielder, who scored Saturday’s only goal. “I have to let Mr Mourinho make that decision and we haven’t had that chat yet.
“But I’m definitely enjoying it here. It’s one of best changing rooms I’ve been in, all the boys are fantastic and the staff are fantastic.” Dimitri Konstantopoulos and Emmanuel Ledesma will both undergo fitness checks before tonight’s game after picking up injuries against the Rams.
Chalobah is set to retain his place with former Sunderland midfielder Dean Whitehead completing a two-match ban.
Tomas Mejias (finger), Daniel Ayala (ankle), Seb Hines (thigh), Rhys Williams (Achilles), Stuart Parnaby (knee) and Mustapha Carayol (cruciate) will all miss out through injury.
Boro are aiming for three consecutive wins for only the second time this season.
The previous victory came at Brighton and Hove Albion, and assistant manager Craig Hignett is looking for this to be the start of a run of late-season form.
“We’ve had two really good performances and two excellent victories,” he said.
“But we want to improve game by game and we’re looking to go on a run.
“We can’t be complacent – we want to finish on a high and win as many games as we can. Beating two teams who are really pushing is a real shot in the arm for us.”
Meanwhile, Charlie Wyke has returned from a loan at AFC Wimbledon. The 21-year-old striker was on loan at Hartlepool last season.