AITOR KARANKA will assess the fitness of Daniel Ayala on the training ground over the next few days in the hope the Spanish centre-back will return to ease Middlesbrough's defensive problems.
After an exciting night at the Riverside Stadium when Boro claimed the points with a 3-1 win over Birmingham City, Karanka has had his options reduced for this Saturday's trip to automatic promotion hopefuls Burnley.
Both Kenneth Omeruo and Ben Gibson, two defenders to have formed a strong partnership together in recent weeks, were sent off in the final ten minutes of last night's win after picking up second yellow cards. They are suspended this weekend.
In-form left-back George Friend was also forced off earlier in the game with a groin problem to add to an injury list which already includes Rhys Williams and Seb Hines.
It is hoped Ayala, who has not played since February 1 with an ankle injury, will prove his fitness, while Jonathan Woodgate emerged unscathed on his own comeback from calf trouble when he emerged from the bench against Birmingham.
Karanka, however, insists he is not worried and believes he has the players capable of delivering a performance worthy of winning at Turf Moor.
"I don't have a view on the red cards at this stage, because I was on the bench,” said the Boro head coach. “I'll have to speak to the players first. I'm not sure if I'm going to fine them yet. I prefer to talk about the players who played in the second half, and the fans, they were number nine, ten and 11 for us tonight.
"George will have a scan and we'll keep our fingers crossed. I don't think I'll plan a comeback to cover the absences but we've got problems. We'll put out 11 players against Burnley who will play with the same intensity as we did tonight.
“We will play with 11 players, they will play in the same we are playing now. That's why I am happy with the squad. It is a very good game to play against a team doing well in the Championship. I have been happy with this squad and I am sure they will continue whoever plays.
RIVERSIDE JOY: Le e Tomlin shows his delight after scoring his first goal for Boro to seal last night’s 3-1 win over Birmingham
“It's good that we are winning and the important thing is the way we are winning. The players are playing with heart with our supporters, and it's nice we are winning games in different ways.”
Middlesbrough looked in complete control when they survived a couple of early scares before taking a two-goal lead when Danny Graham's fourth for the club was followed by Jacob Butterfield's 22-yard screamer 85 seconds later.
Middlesbrough should have had numerous goals in the second half but Kenneth Omeruo, who had been booked in the first half, received a second caution for obstructing Birmingham substitute Jordan Ibe nine minutes from time.
Six minutes later Ben Gibson, who had been booked in the build up to Omeruo's dismissal, also saw red when he pulled back Nikola Zigic down the right flank.
That lifted the atmosphere inside the Riverside and as Birmingham pushed forward, Middlesbrough broke and Lee Tomlin finished things off with his first goal since his move from Peterborough in January.
The victory took Middlesbrough to within eight points of the play-offs with five games to go, but Karanka insists he is not even thinking about the top six.
He said: "It was a crazy game. Credit to the lads, they kept going when we were down to nine men, and the fans were like an extra man for us at the end.
“It was the kind of game that had everything - goals chances injuries, sendings-off. The important thing was that we won the game and for that I'm happy. It could have been 7-4, 7-5 in the end and I think the fans here enjoyed watching the game.
"We won't talk about the play-offs because every time we do, we seem to lose the next game. We'll go on to the Burnley match to give it our all. They are a tough team who are near the top of the division.
“We need to go there and give a good account of ourselves. We're pleased with the run of form we're on, it's only one defeat in eight games now. People said when we lost to QPR we were tired but my players showed they're very much alive and ready to keep going to the last minute of every match.
"The Birmingham goal was a wonderful one, you have to congratulate him for the strike, but we need to concentrate more to close the player down to make sure he doesn't have chance to shoot."