TEENAGER Connor Ripley is expected to start in goal for Middlesbrough against Derby tonight with Tony Mowbray unlikely to be able to secure a loan signing in time.
The son of former Boro winger Stuart, 18-year-old Ripley came off the bench in the 5-2 hammering at Reading on Saturday because of an injury to Jason Steele and will be thrown in at the deep end against Nigel Clough’s side with manager Mowbray well aware of the damage another heavy defeat could do to the youngster’s development, as well as his side’s survival bid.
The Boro boss will continue his search for another goalkeeper this morning, but he is likely to struggle to sign one in time for this evening’s crucial clash – talks with one club broke down over the weekend because of money – as he tried to boost Ripley’s confidence by predicting he will go on to become a big star at the club.
He said: “It wasn’t an ideal time to put him in but he made some good saves. Connor will have a good career ahead of himself as long as he stays focused. He’s very confident and he has a great, big physique.
“We haven’t got another goalkeeper at the club other than schoolboys so we need to look for somebody on loan. We’ll address that as quickly as we can.
“There’s still another day to go so we’ll try to get someone in to help the situation. It’s taken up every hour of the last two days making calls. I know Connor is a good goalkeeper which is why, when Danny (Coyne) was injured, we didn’t go rushing out to try to bring another goalkeeper in.
“He’s a very, very talented boy. He’ll probably be disappointed if we do bring someone in, but it’s not ideal, not very fair on the boy being so tender of age. If he has to play we’ll give him our full support.”
Mowbray, who also has first-choice Coyne on the sidelines, is still trying to come to terms with Saturday’s thrashing and has challenged his players to take out their pain this evening on a side who sit just above them in the Championship table.
He said: “Saturday was tough. We went there in confident mood after being full of intensity and drive against Nottingham Forest, who are one of the best teams in the division.
“The goals we conceded were mainly self-inflicted. There was some poor decision-making. We started poorly right from the first five minutes and never got much better. Ultimately we got what we deserved.
“I can’t put my finger on what happened, but I will allow the players a bad day at the office. Injuries don’t help, but I don’t think there are any excuses.
“What is true is that Saturday was the first time we haven’t been in the match since I’ve been here. It’s the first time we’ve been out-played and out-fought in every department.
“We are fully aware of where we are. We have got to get some wins and we need three points against Derby. We have to find the same intensity and drive we produced against Nottingham Forest.”
Third-bottom Scunthorpe are just three points behind Boro with 12 games left to play and Mowbray’s injury problems are still proving to be a major headache.
Andrew Davies, on loan from Stoke, is not far away as he battles to overcome a tweaked hamstring, but Stephen McManus will not be ready until at least the end of this month, while skipper Matthew Bates is not back until April.
Mowbray has the option to play Rhys Williams at centre-back after the Aussie came on in the second half in his first appearance for 11 months – in midfield – at Reading, but Mowbray is also reluctant to rush him back.
Former Sunderland star Julio Arca has not recovered from a knee injury in time to face Derby, while Scott McDonald, who was ruled out on Saturday because of a virus, will be assessed later today.