RHYS WILLIAMS stepped up his comeback from injury yesterday – and Tony Mowbray believes the Middlesbrough defender’s return will be like a new signing.

The Australian centre-half has been out of action since suffering ankle ligament damage in August, but has been training for the past week and came through an in-house game unscathed at Boro’s training base.

With four games in ten days coming up, starting with tomorrow’s trip to Leeds United, Mowbray is relieved that he finally has his captain back in the frame – and will be boosted further by the returns of Mustapha Carayol, Julio Arca and Curtis Main, who will all return to contention in the next month.

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“Rhys isn’t far away, he’s champing at the bit to play,”

said Mowbray. “He’s been out for a long time so he has to get through his training.

“He has to train for a week or so, get bits of games off the bench if the game suits it and it’s right for Rhys to get up to speed as quickly as he can.

It’s a real positive that he’s on the verge of coming back and impacting on the team.”

However, Mowbray knows he does not have to rush the 24-year-old back into action, as Jonathan Woodgate, Andre Bikey and Seb Hines have coped in his absence.

The Middlesbrough manager added: “We took a big decision to let Stephen McManus go out on loan, knowing that we have three what we call mainstop centre-halves and Woody has played half of those games, Seb has stepped up to the mark and played a fantastic role, with Bikey we’ve hit our first injury problem with him, but he’d played every game up to then.

“George Friend can step inside, Andy Halliday can play left-back, we managed okay – but Rhys coming back will give us options at the back and in midfield. Rhys can play numerous positions so that gives us great flexibility.

“We’ve had a few players like Nicky Bailey who can play right-back, midfield, central, right, left, George as I’ve mentioned. We’ve got a few players who have that flexibility, without a drop in their performance levels.

“Rhys coming in will be great for us, we’ll be able to ease him in into whatever position is right at the time.

Julio will bring experience and ball retention when he’s fit, Curtis Main is a wildcard up front, we can see with his pace, he’s got a rocket in his boots when he shoots.

“Muzzy Carayol looked extremely exciting at the start of the season. He scored against Gillingham, Bury, created a fine chance for Jutkiewicz against Blackburn, he’s one we’re excited to get back.

“Does it feel like new signings?

I think so. They’ll give the team some different dimensions, help us continue to stay at the top end of the table.”

Mowbray has had the full week to prepare for the trip to Elland Road, which has allowed Bikey and Faris Haroun to get treatment on the injuries sustained in the 3-2 win at Peterborough a fortnight ago. Fitness tests will be handed to the pair at Elland Road, but Mowbray is confident they can continue their winning run tomorrow.

He said: “Sometimes the Championship is a game every three days particularly if, like us, you make progress in cup competitions, the games keep coming along.

“A full week’s training for us has been good, it has allowed us to rest after the programme that we have had.

Preparation has begun for Leeds, we’ll go to Elland Road and give it our best shot.

“They played on Wednesday.

I’m sure they feel hard done by the scoreline, for long spells they were very competitive and I’m sure you can expect the same on Saturday.”