MIDDLESBROUGH manager Tony Mowbray has been handed a welcome fitness boost by the return of experienced defender Jonathan Woodgate ahead of today’s trip to promotion hopefuls Brighton & Hove Albion.
The former Leeds United, Tottenham and England defender has been absent since injuring his hamstring during the 2-1 defeat to Leicester City earlier this month.
Now, though, Woodgate looks set for an earlier-than-expected return to action having trained with his team-mates this week following the two-week international break.
“Jonathan trained on Thursday just short of three weeks since he last played,” said Mowbray, who also had good news on four other of his senior players ahead of the long trek to the south coast.
“He was out there with his boots on so hopefully he’ll be okay for the weekend.
“Ishmael Miller and Adam Reach are also back in training and Merouane Zemmama and Justin Hoyte should be back next week.
“But Rhys Williams, Muzzy Carayol and Lukas Jutkiewicz are all likely to be out for a little bit longer yet.”
There was a fresh setback to Mowbray’s plans, however, when young striker Luke Williams joined the injured list, while fellow forward Jutkiewicz was ruled out for around three months after suffering a knee injury in training this week.
“Luke has picked up a hip flexor injury and is not going to be travelling for this game, although it’s not serious,” said Mowbray.
“We’re going to have injuries all year but the difficulty comes when you get three or four in one particular area of the pitch, as we’ve had.
“But that’s why you have a core of five or six strikers, so if you get one injury someone else gets an opportunity to come into the side and make an impression.
“We’ve got Marvin back Emnes training and Scott McDonald in the fold again so we do have options.
“Emmanuel Ledesma is also showing in flashes what he’s capable of creating.”
Boro’s last outing was a 2-1 win at Watford which lifted them to 10th in the Championship, while Gus Poyet’s Brighton fifth have faded somewhat after a table-topping start.