DAMIA ABELLA should finally be confirmed as a Middlesbrough player later today – and the full-back has been lined up to make his debut in tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off at Leeds United.
Abella has spent most of the week at Boro’s Rockliffe Park training ground, and even travelled to Oldham on Tuesday to watch the Teessiders’ Capital One Cup win, but the technicalities of his arrival as a free agent, having terminated his previous contract at Osasuna, have taken longer than expected to iron out.
Aitor Karanka remains confident his compatriot will be available for the trip to Elland Road though, and is expected to thrust the 32-year-old straight into the starting line-up in place of centre-half Seb Hines, who has filled in at right-back in Boro’s opening two matches.
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Patrick Bamford’s season-long loan from Chelsea is also agreed, but with the England under-21 international not having been introduced to his new team-mates yet, he will not be involved against Leeds even if his move is formally ratified today.
“Damia’s signing should be done in time for Saturday, and if everything is done, I think he will have his chance (to start),” said Karanka. “I would like to do a couple of changes again.
“The deal is practically done, it is just the last details we are going through now. Bamford is one of the names we are working on. The club knows the players who I want, and they are working on bringing them on their way.”
Adam Clayton’s £1.5m move from Huddersfield Town was completed on Wednesday, with Jacob Butterfield moving in the opposite direction, and the 25-year-old midfielder took part in his second training session with the rest of the Boro squad yesterday morning.
Having been involved in Huddersfield’s early pre-season matches, he is match fit and keen to make his debut at Leeds, having spent two years playing for the Elland Road club before moving to the John Smith’s Stadium in 2012.
However, with Grant Leadbitter and Dean Whitehead having impressed at the base of midfield against both Birmingham and Oldham, Karanka is understandably reluctant to drop either player in order to accommodate Clayton in the starting line-up.
“I haven’t decided what to do yet because he (Clayton) has only had two or three training sessions and I have to think very hard,” said the Boro head coach. “Dean and Grant are playing well.
“Adam did a complete pre-season with Huddersfield so he is fit, and he is hungry to play at the weekend. But I need to think about that.
“I am pleased he is finally here though. He wanted to come here from the first minute, and that is important to me because it shows that his attitude is right.
“He is happy to have made the decision and is going to improve the squad. He knows the league, and is an English player who already knows some of the other players in the squad. He is a player who I wanted from the beginning of pre-season.
“When you have very good players, and they are competing for one or two places, it is good for the squad. If you have two or three players for each position, and they are all very good players, that is the best position to be in.”
Not only have Boro won their opening two matches, but they are also still to concede their first goal of the campaign. Tomas Mejias was barely tested against Birmingham, with Dimi Konstantopoulos even more of a spectator as Oldham’s forwards failed to threaten on Tuesday night.
Ben Gibson will be absent for around a fortnight after suffering a hamstring injury in the opening minute of Saturday’s game, but that still leaves Kenneth Omeruo, Jonathan Woodgate and Daniel Ayala competing for the centre-half positions with Hines also in the mix for a starting spot in his preferred role.
Omeruo’s World Cup performances for Nigeria marked him out as a special talent, and his effortlessly dominant display against Birmingham means he will surely start tomorrow as Boro look to shackle a Leeds attack that will feature Souleymane Doukara, who scored both of his side’s goals in their midweek League Cup win over Accrington Stanley.
However, Woodgate and Ayala were every bit as impressive at Oldham, and whoever misses out tomorrow will have cause to feel aggrieved.
“The defence is very important because, in Spain, we say you have to build a house from the floor,” said Karanka. “The most important thing to win games is not to be conceding goals.
“If you have a squad with players with quality, you are always going to score goals. With the players we have here, I know we can score. So if you don’t concede many goals either, you should be successful.”