TONY MOWBRAY has admitted he could have to dip in to the Premier League loan market as he tries to find the root of an injury-crisis threatening to derail Middlesbrough's promotion push.
Boro could have 12 first team players ruled out when they head to Burnley tonight after suffering further frustration in the treatment room.
Full-back Stuart Parnaby is facing four-six weeks out with a hamstring tear, while Lukas Jutkiewicz and Josh McEachran are both battling to overcome ankle knocks. All three had to be withdrawn early in the 4-1 defeat at Crystal Palace on Saturday.
The situation comes just weeks after Mowbray was forced to cope with a list of injured players through December which peaked at 14 just after the turn of the year.
And the Middlesbrough boss, who has repeatedly claimed he was not looking to bring more new faces in since an unsuccessful deadline day move for former striker Danny Graham, is having to seriously consider a change of mind on the transfer front.
"There comes a point, if the injuries keep coming, that you have got to think about the loan system because you run out of players," said Mowbray.
"There's no point in loaning players for the sake of it. But if one from the Premier League becomes available and you really feel your team could do with it - and we can afford it - then I think we would have to seriously look at it. I'm sure we will."
The unwanted situation, as Middlesbrough look to improve a run of six defeats from seven Championship matches, has forced Mowbray to turn to his development squad once more.
Sixteen-year-old Bryn Morris, who made his debut in the FA Cup win over Hastings last month, has been called up and is likely to make the bench at Turf Moor.
While the main focus is how to start collecting points regularly again, Mowbray and his staff are working hard to come up with a solution to the club's injury problems.
"It's my job, the medical department's job, the sports science department's job to find out why," said the Middlesbrough boss, who said there was 'no good news' on the injury front ahead of the trip to Burnley.
"We have had too many injuries. I have changed where we train. We used to always train down by the river side (at Rockliffe Park), we now train at the top to try to cut out muscle injuries.
"In December time we came to the conclusion that the pitches were quite heavy. But we have been training on real firm pitches since, which are a different texture to those at the bottom, but we are still picking up injuries like Parnaby's. It's our responsibility to look at why we are getting these muscle problems."
What Mowbray is keen to stress, though, is that Middlesbrough were able cope and stay in the promotion hunt during December, so expects the players he has available now to do the same.
"We did have similar injuries in December but won four out of five," he said. "At that stage I was praising the lads and the fact that we could bring in other players to do the job.
"The results aren't there at the moment so we are all looking for reasons. It wasn't injuries in December â€¦ it is concentration at the minute for me and conceding early goals."
Middlesbrough, occupants of the final play-off spot, are still four points clear of Brighton below them despite their stuttering form.
But after failing to deal with Crystal Palace's 26-goal striker Glenn Murray four days ago, Mowbray knows they will have to fair better when their patched up defence comes up against another Championship hot-shot tonight.
Charlie Austin has hit 21 goals for mid-table Burnley in the league so far, while Middlesbrough's leading scorer, Scott McDonald has 11. It is not up front, though, which concerns Mowbray.
He said: "Our strikers have all done OK. I have spread the load on our strikers this year. From starts to goals, McDonanld, Jutkiewicz and Miller ... they have all scored more than one in two starts.
"I don't think you need a 26-goal striker like that to be up there ... Cardiff haven't got one and they're top. I think clean sheets invariably win more matches than 20-a-season goalscorers. It helps confidence in the team if you are not conceding goals."
With Parnaby, Justin Hoyte, Seb Hines and Jonathan Woodgate all missing tonight, Mowbray is seriously considering a recall for experienced defender Stephen McManus, who is out of contract in the summer.
Mowbray said: "Stephen knows his situation. He is a top professional footballer and I have no fears if he is asked to play. The reasons he hasn't been playing is issues from a past regime. If Stephen is required then I have no doubts about him."
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