MIDDLESBROUGH boss Tony Mowbray admits the club’s injury crisis is a frustration ahead of today’s clash against Swansea City at the Riverside.
Despite having Willo Flood and Rhys Williams return to training earlier this week, Mowbray’s plans to pull his men to Championship safety took a knock with the news of skipper Matthew Bates being ruled out for the next six weeks.
Bates limped off early in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace with a hamstring injury leaving Mowbray with another unwanted problem.
Throw in the fact that David Wheater was sold last month and you can see Boro’s options in the centre of defence are becoming more and more limited.
And while Mowbray recognises that this is a chance for a young player to come in and make a name for himself, given Boro’s current predicament, having the experienced option to hand would have been a plus.
He said: “Losing David Wheater and Matthew Bates is a blow. When I came here, we had those two cemented at the back and looking very solid. A few weeks down the road, Wheater has left us and Bates is out injured.
“Both of course are huge losses for us but it’s an opportunity for somebody else like Seb Hines and Jonathan Grounds to step in and cement their own places in the team.
“Injuries are part and parcel of the game. In an ideal world you don’t have them and you have a full, healthy squad to pick your best team from.
“But I know that when I’m sitting in the pressroom after the game and if our defenders haven’t done particularly well, I can’t say I was missing Wheater and Bates because no one’s interested in that. You have to put out a team to try and win.
“It does feel with the injuries that as soon as you take one step forward you have to take two back as someone else is injured or in the case of David Wheater, sold to someone else. You feel that you are making progress but when you lose someone like him it does disrupt that rhythm.
“You hope for a seamless transition but there is a big difference when you lose a six foot four Wheater heading the ball out compared to a defender who is six foot one and having to deal with a ball in the box.
“I think we are vulnerable right now at set-plays and it is a frustration when you lose players of the quality of Wheater and Bates.
“I think with our best 11 on the pitch we are very competitive and can match the best in this league – but with respect to those players coming in, we have to remain competitive. Sometimes when you go into games with younger players they generally don’t yet have that quality required at the fine end at the top that’s required to get results.
“In training this week, we’ve only been able to work with a small number of players. Julio Arca’s been injured, Joe Bennett and Andrew Taylor also.
“Marvin Emnes hasn’t trained all week so it is frustrating sitting down a day or so away from the Swansea game not knowing who’s going to be available to play in certain areas of the park. It is a hindrance when you can’t develop a rhythm – especially when you look at Swansea who have more or less played the same team in their last three games.”
Seb Hines looks set to be Boro’s lynch-pin in defence for the time being and while Mowbray is full of admiration for the raw talent his youngster has, he advises fans to be patient with him.
He added: “Seb’s grown into his role week-in, week-out. He’s gaining in confidence which probably stems from the fact he knows he’s going to play every week.
“Wheater and Bates not so long ago were cemented in the team but the former is away and the latter is injured so Seb in the mainstay of the defence at the moment. Hopefully he’ll enjoy the responsibility that comes with it.”