GARRY MONK insists Martin Braithwaite's injury-hit start to life at Middlesbrough could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Boro's £9m summer signing from French club Toulouse returned after a near two-month absence when coming off the bench in the 1-0 defeat to Norwich.

The Denmark international hopes to make his first start since the opening day of the season when the Teessiders host Brentford looking to kick-start their Championship promotion push after the damaging midweek setback.

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Monk boasts a squad well-stocked with attacking firepower, but the manager is glad to welcome the 26-year-old back to provide further competition for five-goal top scorer Britt Assombalonga, who endured a night to forget in front of goal against the Canaries' massed defence.

And the manager believes Braithwaite's enforced lay-off with a hamstring injury has at least provided the high profile new arrival with valuable time to bed-in and acclimatise to his new surroundings after bringing the curtain down on a four-year spell in Ligue 1.

Monk said: "It's never ideal to pick up an injury like Martin did so soon after arriving at a new club, and it's and not a situation you want to really find yourself in.

"But on the plus side, it's also been a good period for him to have a closer look at how things are over here. When you're watching from the outside, you can understand more what the league is about and what the teams are like you're going to be coming up against. I think from that perspective, he's learned a lot.

"He's come back in good shape, he looks stronger and more ready than probably when he arrived, so it's good to see him back and he'll be an important part of the squad."

The potential inclusion of Braithwaite isn't the only possible change being contemplated by Monk, who has Ryan Shotton pushing to step up from the bench to start in defence. England Under-21 international Dael Fry, whose mistake led to the Norwich goal, is the player most under threat should the manager decide to switch personnel. "All the squad are fighting hard to get in the side and that's just how I want it," Monk added. "There will be some difficult decision ahead."

Middlesbrough hope to bridge a three-point gap to the play-off places by posting a 10th successive victory against the Bees, who they are unbeaten against since 1964 and haven't lost to in the league for almost 80 years. Despite only goal difference keeping Dean Smith's side out of the bottom three, Monk has warned against complacency, insisting he takes little notice of the Championship standings at this early stage.

"The league table doesn't bother me," he said. Sunderland supporters might care to disagree as the quarter-way mark of the season approaches, but he added: "There's no point looking at how many points you have now, or looking at the table at present, it means nothing now. If you don't concentrate on the here and now you're probably wasting time and focus.

"We know that every game is competitive and Brentford will pose their threats for sure. They're a good young side and league positions mean nothing at this stage. They play good football and are similar to Fulham in their set up so they will pose a similar threat. We were seven games unbeaten before Norwich and we hope to go on a similar kind of run again, starting with Brentford."

Meanwhile, Monk has brushed off criticism of his Leeds United reign following the Elland Road club's impressive start to the campaign.

With the Yorkshire club currently third under the guidance of Monk's successor Thomas Christiansen, pundits and supporters have questioned the progress made during the 38-year-old's 12-month reign, which came to an abrupt end when he resigned in May shortly after a late season collapse saw the Whites miss out on a play-off place.

Given an opportunity to respond, Monk insisted: "It's got nothing to do with me. My focus is on Middlesbrough and that's where my focus will stay."