MIDDLESBROUGH hope to have a new manager in place by the end of next week after Steve Gibson narrowed down his search to three candidates.

The exact identity of the trio on Gibson’s mind is unclear, although what is concrete is that Jonathan Woodgate is right in the mix to land his first managerial post.

Former Fulham and Watford boss Slavisa Jokanovic is believed to be another having spoken to the club about the position, although there could be financial implications surrounding such an appointment.

There are other names who have been mooted, with the leading alternative candidate understood to be Portuguese coach Jorge Simao.

Simao, who has links to Peter Kenyon, who has acted as an advisor to Middlesbrough on a number of occasions in the past, was most recently employed as the head coach of Boavista.

A former boss of Braga, his candidature has been discussed in the last couple of weeks, and his appointment could result in Middlesbrough following the same path that enabled Wolves to win promotion from the Championship a couple of seasons ago.

However, Woodgate remains the clear favourite at this stage, and the Teessider is well respected around Rockliffe Park by players and fellow coaches.

He also has a clear idea of how he would like Middlesbrough to develop in a time when there will be not as much money around to invest in the squad.

Middlesbrough chairman Gibson has been carefully considering all of his options and it is expected that there will be an appointment next week.

It is now three weeks since Tony Pulis left Middlesbrough and Gibson has been in no rush to appoint his successor.

The players are due back for pre-season training in a few weeks and Middlesbrough need to have someone in place so they can start to make serious decisions about recruitment.

So far there has been confirmation that new deals have not been offered to Stewart Downing, John Obi Mikel, Dimi Konstantopoulos and Andy Lonergan.

But Middlesbrough also need to start to work on ways of improving the squad, and that means having to offload players too.

Britt Assombalonga would appear to be one of the most likely players to depart but only a handful of Championship clubs – if any - could seriously consider matching his weekly pay packet at the Riverside plus a near £15m valuation.

That transfer fee has also made newly-promoted Sheffield United consider alternative options to the former Nottingham Forest man.

The Blades have learned they can have West Brom’s Jay Rodriguez for £5m because of a clause in his contract, and that is considerably less than the figure being quoted for Assombalonga, Brentford’s Neil Maupay and Swansea’s Oli McBurnie.

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder is still an admirer of Assombalonga, though, and wants more than one new striker to attack the first season in the Premier League at Bramall Lane.

Wilder will be given money to spend over the summer but he will weigh up how much to offer for Assombalonga, who he feels can provide a decent goal threat at the top level – despite never playing in the Premier League.

While Middlesbrough are willing to listen to offers for the high earners in the squad, there is a desire to keep hold of the likes of Dael Fry and Marcus Tavernier.

But the Teessiders will be faced with a difficult task of keeping them if sizeable offers do arrive from top clubs at home and abroad after failing to seal promotion last season.

Burnley and European champions Liverpool are two of the clubs keen on defender Fry, while Tavernier – who didn’t play as much as he should have last season – is attracting interest from Watford, Bayer Leverkusen and others.