WITH Caleb Folan likely to be sidelined for at least six weeks, Gareth Southgate will consider signing another loan striker during the international break.

Folan tore his hamstring last Sunday, and tests have revealed extensive damage that will keep the Republic of Ireland international out of action until the middle of November.

The terms of Folan’s loan agreement from Hull City prevent Boro from sending the striker back to the KC Stadium during the first 28 days of his loan spell, and the Teessiders are expected to take responsibility for the whole of his recuperation period.

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In the meantime, they will have to make do with just three centre-forwards, with Leroy Lita, Jeremie Aliadiere and Marvin Emnes representing the sum total of Southgate’s attacking options.

An injury or suspension to any of the trio would leave the cupboard alarmingly bare, and the Boro boss will mull over his options this weekend before deciding whether to pursue a new set of loan targets at the start of next week.

“We’re going to have some meetings about the striker situation and see what we think the best thing is going to be,” said Southgate, who is allowed to make six loan signings at any one time. “Is there somebody we think we would want to bring in? And do we feel like we need an extra body?

“At the moment, the three strikers apart from Caleb are fit, so there’s competition there, but it’s an area where you need good competition for places and good cover as well.

“Whether we can sign a new striker I don’t know. We haven’t had that discussion yet because we were waiting to see how Caleb was.”

Today’s game pits Boro against a Reading team who have not won at home since recording a 1-0 victory over Wolves in January, but Southgate will not be taking anything for granted, given the Championship’s deserved reputation for unpredictability.

Boro have failed to win in their last three matches, having won five of their previous six before that, while West Brom followed up a 5-0 win at the Riverside with back-to-back defeats against Crystal Palace and Barnsley.

The teams in English football’s second tier are much more closely grouped than the sides in the topflight, and Southgate feels that the absence of huge financial disparities makes the Championship an exceptionally competitive division.

“The teams in this league will always have a spell where they struggle,” he said.

“Wolves won the league last season, but they had a spell where they didn’t win for 11 games.

“Everybody has that, we’re not unique. West Brom made a massive statement against us, then lost their next two matches. It’s the nature of the division and that’s what I think makes it so exciting.

“There’s not this huge gulf.

“There’s a difference in budgets, but it’s not £330m or £340m.

“Everyone’s a lot closer together.”