JONATHAN WOODGATE will not be fit in time for Middlesbrough’s game against Queens Park Rangers tomorrow, but Aitor Karanka is more than happy with his current defensive pairing.

Woodgate has been suffering with a calf injury after limping off at Sheffield Wednesday three weeks ago, and hopes of him making his comeback against Rangers were dashed when he encountered a flare-up after returning to full training this week.

In Woodgate’s place, Ben Gibson has partnered on-loan Chelsea defender Kenneth Omeruo, and Karanka is relieved to be able to call on the young duo again when QPR visit tomorrow, after shutting out Ipswich Town and AFC Bournemouth in recent outings.

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“Woody is not fit, he has a problem again, and he’s not training with the team,” revealed the Middlesbrough manager yesterday.

“It’s good news for me [that Omeruo and Gibson will play] because they are both playing very well together. They are young players. I am sure they are both improving by playing together, you can see them playing like experienced professionals.

The Northern Echo: Watford striker Troy Deeney with Middlesbrough's Ben Gibson, who had just been sent off. Picture: Dave Peters.

“But it’s not like we aren’t conceding goals because they are playing, we are not conceding because the team is working well defensively, the team is working well. I am happy with them both, as they are playing as if they have been playing together for one or two years.”

Gibson was a half-time substitute for Woodgate at Hillsborough on March 1, having never played alongside Omeruo before, and Karanka is impressed with the improvements that the 20-year-old has made to his game since the Spaniard took over in November.

“They have adapted very well since the first moment,” said Karanka. “Gibbo made mistakes in the past but he’s playing very well now. He concentrates every minute of every game, if he continues in this way he will be a good player.

“He needed to improve his concentration, he made stupid mistakes in the past but now he’s playing very well.

“He’s a young player, he’s got potential to be a good player but he doesn’t have to think he is a better player than he is. He’s a good player when he plays 100% with full concentration.”

Boro were rocked by the injury to Mustapha Carayol in the dying moments of the 0-0 draw at Bournemouth on Saturday, and Karanka hopes the Gambian-born winger will come back a stronger player after undergoing surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate next week.

“He’s an important player,” said Karanka. “Everyone knows Muzzy. He’ll be a big miss, because he’s the type of player who brings a lot of quality when he is fit.

“He needs now to recover well, and I am sure he will come back stronger and more mature, the same way like Rhys Williams will from his injury. He’s strong, he’s ready to start his rehab and the best way to show our support is to win on Saturday.”

The Northern Echo: NEW BOY: Kenneth Omeruo has targeted a challenge to the Championship's top six while at Middlesbrough

Injury to Caryol will provide an opportunity for Kei Kamara, Emmanuel Ledesma or Luke Williams to stake a claim for a place, and Karanka hopes that one of those players steps out of the shadows to help Boro consolidate their position in the Championship.

The Northern Echo: Mustapha Carayol

“We have one less player now,” said Karanka. We have other players, and I’m happy with all of them. We have ten games to go until the end of the season, we fight together. We have one player less, but we need to be compact, we need to work hard and we need to carry on as we did before.

“For Muzzy, it’s horrible. But you can never rush back from an injury like that. He has to be strong, the most important thing is for him to be comfortable, he has to concentrate on his rehab and he will be back.”