SCOTT MCDONALD could give Middlesbrough a much-needed boost tomorrow, but Tony Mowbray admits the striker is likely to start from the bench against Millwall after conceding he has brought players back from injury too soon this season.

McDonald's last appearance for Boro came in the defeat to Leicester on January 18 and the striker has been since struggling to overcome a back problem initially suffered on New Year's Day.

The Australian hoped to feature at Ipswich Town at the beginning of the month after having an injection in his back, but he has remained on the sidelines.

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McDonald has trained with the first-team this week, but having seen several players break down soon after returning this term, Mowbray is conscious not to make the same mistake again.

"We talked last week about the reasons why we've been on the run we're on and I think maybe the temptation to put injured players straight back into the team is something," Mowbray

admitted. "When you think of Williams, Jutkiewicz, Friend, people who have been out for at least a month if not more coming back and playing in the team and maybe haven't been at full tilt.

"I think whilst the temptation would be there to bring him back, I think we'll try and pick the right moment for Scott to impact on the team and that'll probably be from the bench this week if he trains with us today.

"I've put a lot of thought into why results have turned the wrong way for us and hopefully we're going to turn that around again, but I think when you analyse those fine margins and you talk about Rhys Williams being out for four months.

"He trained for two-and-a-half days and he's back in the team straight away. You're probably putting a player in, who, through no fault of his own, is way below the physical and mental standards he sets himself and Jutkiewicz can probably fall into that category. Friend, of course, missed a month and came straight back in."

The Boro squad was decimated by injuries over Christmas and new year, when Mowbray had 13 first-team players unavailable at the same time.

Those injuries seemed to clear up for a couple of weeks, but the Boro boss has lost several players again.

"I am trying to resist the temptation to put Scott straight back in and try to ease the players in amongst the training and some game time, generally from the bench, but there's high talk of fine margins of this league. You probably can't afford to carry three or four that are a bit below par.

"I think the first round of injuries before the new year were replaced by fit footballers, who just hadn't been in the team. We did have a lot of injuries around November and December, culminating in 13 players being unavailable.

"Now, we're probably in a cycle where the players unavailable through injury are being replaced by ones coming back from injuries, who are maybe not quite right to be put back in the team.

"At the same time, I don't want to sit here and make excuses for our run of results. Hopefully we'll turn the corner. We did win our last home game and so we are very right to go into Millwall believing we're going to hit winning form and yet they're never easy.

"They're all tough games and Millwall will want to react after a 5-1 defeat so let's wait and see. We're aware of the pack behind us and we're aware of the points gap in front of us and if we can find some consistency we can close that very quickly."

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