BURNLEY have emerged as Middlesbrough’s leading rivals in the battle to sign Nottingham Forest striker Britt Assombalonga.

Boro are hoping to make Assombalonga their fourth permanent summer signing, having already spent a combined total of £16m on Martin Braithwaite, Jonny Howson and Cyrus Christie.

The Forest striker flew back into England yesterday having spent the last week in Florida on a pre-season training camp, and Boro officials had been hoping to step up their attempts to land the 24-year-old.

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However, Burnley’s strengthened interest has complicated matters, with the Premier League club prepared to match whatever Boro offer.

Burnley temporarily cooled their interest in Assombalonga after Forest officials rejected their initial £8m offer last week, but with major doubts continuing to hang over the future of Andre Gray, who has entered the final year of his current Turf Moor deal, they have reopened discussions.

Assombalonga has previously outlined a desire to test himself in the Premier League, and Boro could face a difficult task to persuade him to remain in the second tier.

Talks with Boro and Burnley officials are planned, with the Forest hierarchy having accepted they will struggle to hold on to Assombalonga given the extensive interest in his services.

Boro boss Garry Monk has not given up hope of landing his number one attacking target, and the Teessiders are confident they can put together an attractive financial package.

However, it remains to be seen whether that is sufficient to outflank Burnley, whose boss, Sean Dyche, gave Assombalonga his first-team debut when the pair were both at Watford in 2012.

Boro completed another signing yesterday, with 21-year-old defender Connor Roberts having signed a season-long loan deal from Swansea City.

Roberts, who is primarily seen as a right-back, but who can also play on the left-hand side of the back four, will link up with Boro’s senior squad in the Algarve.

He is well known to Monk and first-team coach Dave Adams, having progressed through Swansea’s academy set-up when the pair were both employed in South Wales.

Roberts is yet to make a first-team appearance for Swansea, but he made 54 appearances during a season-long loan with Yeovil Town in the 2015-16 season, and also featured for Bristol Rovers during a six-month spell at the Memorial Ground last season.

The youngster was a regular for Wales at Under-19 level, and has also won two caps for the Under-21s.

Boro have also signed George Miller from Bury, with the 19-year-old striker set to form part of the club’s development squad next season.

As well as looking to make further additions to his squad, Monk is also assessing which players he should allow to leave, with Stewart Downing edging closer to the exit door as he prepares for talks with Birmingham City.

Downing was deemed surplus to requirements last month, and while he was involved in Boro’s opening pre-season friendly against Oxford United on Wednesday, he remains free to talk to potential suitors.

Birmingham have been leading the race for the winger’s services, and Blues boss Harry Redknapp is keen to hold face-to-face talks when Downing returns to England at the end of Boro’s training camp.

Those discussions are expected to take place at the start of next week, with Redknapp a long-standing admirer of Downing’s talents. He tried to sign the Teessider in 2009 when he was manager of Tottenham, and is confident Downing is still capable of making a major impact in the Championship.

Downing, who is understood to earn around £60,000-a-week, is the highest-paid player on Boro’s books, and his departure would lead to a significant reduction in the wage bill.

The same is true of Gaston Ramirez, although Monk insists he has not closed the door on either player.

“You saw (against Oxford), they are very committed,” said the Boro boss. “My job is to work with the (whole) group.

“I’ve spoken to certain players in terms of going forward and how that will be, and in terms of being in my plans and how that’s going to work.

“But you use pre-season as well to open doors and make sure everyone has a clear way of understanding and working. Those guys have been fantastic, and you want to try and keep quality players at your club.”

  • Boro play their second pre-season game this evening when they take on League Two side Chesterfield at the Complexo Desportivo de Vila Real.