MIDDLESBROUGH’s lunchtime game may be the dead rubber that all of Teesside was keen to avoid, but it has major significance for one home player.
Namely winger Mustapha Carayol, who is expected to make a first Boro appearance in almost 15 months following a serious knee injury today.
The 26-year-old is set to face the side where he recently spent a restorative five-game loan spell in Brighton with the Londoner also buoyed by signing a new two-and-a-half-year deal this week.
Head coach Aitor Karanka has seen enough for him to warrant a new deal and Carayol may yet prove a trump card for Boro in the end-of-season play-offs.
Karanka, who met Carayol in London on numerous occasions during his rehabilitation from injury, said: “I have a very good relationship with him now.
“And I think we’ve built this relationship when he was injured and in London. I went there to visit him and had a chat and our relationship is much better.
“He feels better (following his loan), and I hope he will have his chance (against Brighton).”
With Bournemouth holding a three-point lead over Boro and a huge goal difference advantage, the Teessiders are expected to rest several leading players, with a play-off semi-final away first leg in the offing next week.
If Boro had claimed a point and not gone for broke late on last week at Fulham, who scored a stoppage-time winner with Boro goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos having pushed up for a corner, they would still have had an outsde chance of beating Bournemouth to second place.
But Karanka said: “The players gave their best in every single minute.
“If we have not got promotion directly, it is because we are not ready to get promotion and there were two teams who were better than us.”