middlerbrough’s head coach Aitor Karanka is resisting the temptation to rush winger Mustapha Carayol back into first-team action.
The 26-year-old has not played for the first team for an entire year after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury at Bournemouth 12 months ago.
Despite training with the first team and featuring several times for the club’s development side, Karanka has questioned whether he is yet ready for the intense and combative nature of Championship football – and more especially a critical run-in for Boro.
Karanka said: “Maybe I am wrong and maybe he thinks that he can play, but in the intensity that we play – he’s been out for one year and with the games in the Under-21s – I don’t think he is ready to play in our intensity.
“I think it would be worse if I put him in the squad and on the pitch and he is not fit, it could be worse for him and worse for the team.
“We have to do the right thing and at the moment I think he is not ready to play with us.”
Tonight’s game at Derby is the first leg of a huge away double-header with the Teesside club visiting Bournemouth in a televised fixture on Saturday lunch-time – and still having road trips to Watford and Norwich City to come before season’s end.
Key defender Dani Ayala (thigh) is doubtful for tonight’s clash, with Jonathan Woodgate set to deputise.
Last six: Derby WWLLDD, Middlesbrough LWLWLW.
Referee: A D’Urso (Essex).
Last time: Derby 2 Middlesbrough 1; December 4, 2013; Championship.