AITOR KARANKA is set to deal Jason Steele another blow tomorrow by selecting Dimi Konstantopoulos as his replacement for the injured Tomas Mejias.
Despite only having made his Middlesbrough debut in last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, Mejias is facing more than a month on the sidelines after breaking his finger on the training ground on Tuesday.
In the Spaniard’s absence, Karanka must decide whether to start with Steele, Konstantopoulos or Jayson Leutwiler, and after the former was left out of the match-day squad entirely last weekend, there is little chance of the former England under-21 international being restored to the first team despite his appearance in Monday’s development defeat to Aston Villa.
For whatever reason, Karanka does not appear to rate Steele particularly highly, even though the 23-year-old was recently regarded as one of the most promising young goalkeepers outside the Premier League.
The North-Easterner was dismissed in Karanka’s first game in charge at Leeds United, and while an ankle injury compounded his woes, his return to fitness has not been accompanied by a return to first-team duties.
He is unlikely to start tomorrow’s game against Ipswich, with Konstantopoulos’ appearance on the bench at Hillsborough underlining his seniority in the eyes of his manager.
“Tomas has picked up an injury,” said Karanka, who will also be without Jonathan Woodgate for tomorrow’s game. “He damaged his finger in training and it looks like a serious one. I think he will be out for four or five weeks and that is a blow.
“We must be the only team in the world that have to use five keepers in the space of three months. It’s unbelievable. It’s incredible the way it keeps happening, but I trust in Jason, Jayson and Dimi and we will just have to work with these three now and see what happens.
“I have another decision to make now, and that will be difficult. But I hope I will make the right decision, like I did with Shay (Given) and with Tomas last week. Each day I have one keeper less to choose from, so maybe the decisions are getting easier!”
Mejias will hope to return for the final four or five matches of the season, and Rhys Williams could yet be involved in the run in as well despite having been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign when he damaged his Achilles in January’s goalless draw with Wigan Athletic.
Williams’ rehabilitation is currently ahead of schedule, raising hopes that he could yet thrust himself into contention for the Australia squad for this summer’s World Cup finals.
Having missed the last World Cup in South Africa because of injury, Williams is understandably desperate to complete his recovery in time to make Australia manager Ange Postecoglou’s provisional 30-man squad for Brazil, which will be announced in the middle of May.
However, Karanka has warned the 25-year-old not to become obsessed by the World Cup cut-off point as the next two or three weeks will be crucial in determining how well his Achilles problem heals.
“The most important thing for Rhys is that he concentrates on his rehab and what he needs to do in the next few weeks,” said the Boro boss. “If he starts thinking about the World Cup in the summer, there is a risk he could suffer a new problem that would wreck everything for him.
“It is better for him to concentrate on the work that he has to do, and then if the World Cup becomes a possibility, that will be great. He needs to focus on the next couple of weeks, and then one or two weeks before the end of the season, we can all look at where his recovery is.
“It is better for us all to be very careful with him. But if his rehab goes well, then he can play the last few games here and possibly play in the World Cup too. That would be very good for everybody.”
Karanka has welcomed a new face to Boro’s Rockliffe Park training ground this week following the appointment of Craig Hignett as his new number two.
Hignett replaces Jamie Clapham, who was performing the role on a temporary basis, and was approached after the claims of other candidates were rejected.
“We met with other people to discuss signing with them, but the right person is Higgy,” said Karanka. “When I arrived here, I asked for an assistant, but we didn’t want to make mistakes so we were waiting to take the right person. That is why Higgy is here with us now.
“He has a lot of strengths. He has a good knowledge of the club, the league and the players. He is a veteran ex-player who played a lot of games and scored a lot of goals for Middlesbrough.
“It is good for us, and for our strikers in particular. They can take some different points of view from him, and I am sure he will be important for us.”