Jonathan Woodgate is set to make his comeback for Middlesbrough against Blackburn Rovers at the Riverside this afternoon, taking the place of the injured Daniel Ayala in central defence.
January signing Ayala has been ruled out for between four and six weeks with an ankle injury he suffered in last weekend’s goalless draw at Doncaster Rovers and, with fellow centre-back Rhys Williams possibly sitting out the remainder of the campaign after undergoing surgery on an Achilles injury, Woodgate’s return has come at the perfect moment for Boro manager Aitor Karanka.
Skipper Woodgate has himself missed eight games with a thigh problem, but he is ready to return for his first outing since Boxing Day and fill the gap left by Ayala.
Karanka (pictured right) said: “Daniel was playing very well but now he’s injured.
“Rhys had an operation last week and the doctor told me it went very well.
“I hope he can play before the end of the season but it’s a serious injury. For him the most important thing now is to go with his family to Australia and forget football and in two, three weeks start his rehabilitation. If he can play one or two games at the end of the season that’s good but if he can’t it’s also good, as this injury is best rested.”
Boro’s nine-goal top scorer Albert Adomah is also ready to return after missing the Doncaster game through injury. And on-loan Sunderland striker Danny Graham is expected to play some part in the game.
“Danny’s very confident and he’s very happy being here because he knows the club and the people who are here,” said Karanka.
“When I see him in training you can tell he’s a very good player and I think he will be an important player for us.
“For strikers confidence is the most important thing. We need to see Danny work and score goals.”
Boro go into today’s game in 12th place in the Championship, four places and four points behindRovers. Karanka’s men have picked up just two points from their last three league games, while the Lancashire side have won only one of their last four.
“We’re at home and first of all we need to win,” said the Spaniard. “We need to get the three points for the fans, because last week (at Doncaster) they were amazing, unbelievable. I think it was the biggest turnout in England and for this we need to give them a win at home.”
On-loan Peterborough striker Lee Tomlin serves the second game of a three-match ban he picked up after receiving his third red card of the season in his final game for Posh last month, but Karanka is taking the opportunity to put the 25-year-old through his paces in training to ensure he is fully fit when he is available for the first time. Karanka said: “He’s suffering our intensity! It’s normal, but he needs to be fit as soon as possible. He has two games out and this is good for him to get fit.
“He’s a good player, he has quality and he can score goals. When he is fit he will work and fight for the team, he can play in our style and can score a lot of goals. I think last season he scored 11 goals in the Championship. He’s a number ten but can also play different positions.”
Meanwhile, Boro midfielder Matty Dolan was expected to join League One Bradford City this morning for the remainder of the season, once the emergency loan window opens.