Preston NE v Middlesbrough: Daniel Ayala aims to see out contract with the Boro

THIS could be the year Daniel Ayala leaves Middlesbrough, but the centre-back is determined it will not be in January.

Middlesbrough's Daniel Ayala: After scoring against the Baggies.

The captain is out of contract in the summer, leading to speculation Boro may try to cash in on the player they signed from Norwich City in 2013.

Championship title-chasers Leeds United are one of those linked with a possible move.

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Ayala remains a key figure, as his goal to round off Sunday’s 2-0 win at West Bromwich Albion demonstrated, but with the transfer window opening ahead of today’s trip to Preston North End, there is sure to be plenty of speculation.

“Unless something really big happens – and I don’t think it will – I will definitely be at Middlesbrough until the end of the season,” insisted the Spaniard, who started his career at Liverpool but had his first run of senior games on loan at Hull City.

“I have been here seven years and I’ve said before, I love this club. I don’t really think about going elsewhere.

“I just want to stay here and finish this season as well as I can and then let’s see what happens.

“Of course I see all the media speculation, my friends send me all the stories to read and that is normal. But, really, I have to tell you that I am only concentrating on Middlesbrough and I’m not thinking about leaving in January or anything like that.”

Boro go into the game nine places below the Lilywhites, yet they are the form side, having won their last three matches while Preston have picked up just two points.

They could, though, have former Boro striker David Nugent back from a virus to partly make up for the absence of top-scorer Daniel Johnson, who has a knee injury.

Boro have Paddy McNair and Marcus Browne back from suspensions today and hope striker Britt Assombalonga will be fit, but there are doubts over George Friend, Ryan Shotton, Darren Randolph and Anfernee Dijksteel.

Last six: Preston North End LWWDDL; Middlesbrough WDLWWW.

Referee: J Brooks (Leicestershire).

Last time: Preston North End 1 Middlesbrough 1, November 27, 2018, Championship.