GEORGE FRIEND is set to make his first appearance of the season when Middlesbrough kick off their Carabao Cup campaign at home to Crewe Alexandra this evening.

Friend has spent most of the summer battling his way back to full fitness, and while he featured in last month’s pre-season friendly at Bishop Auckland, he was not risked in either of the opening two league matches against Luton Town and Brentford.

The full-back was not even in the squad at the weekend, but with Jonathan Woodgate set to make a host of changes for tonight’s League Cup opener at the Riverside, he will return to skipper the side in the back four.

Woodgate has confirmed he intends to use Friend as both a centre-half and left-back this season, with the defender’s versatility one of the key reasons why Boro considered selling Ryan Shotton to Wigan Athletic last week.

In the end, Shotton remained on Teesside beyond the end of the transfer window, but Woodgate remains keen to step up Friend’s recovery by handing him his first start of the campaign.

The Boro boss will also name summer signings Marc Bola, Anfernee Dijksteel and Marcus Browne in his starting line-up.

“There’ll definitely be changes for the cup game,” said the Boro head coach. “There are a few players who need to play, and we’ve also got a few who could probably do with the rest.

“George trained again at the weekend, and hopefully he’ll be playing. Let’s see. They (the three new signings) will play in the game because I need to look at them. They will put pressure on the players who played at the weekend.”

The game comes too soon for Dael Fry, but the centre-half, who was the subject of a rejected bid from Burnley in the final week of the window, should be back in first-team action within the next couple of weeks.

Crewe started the season with a heavy home defeat to Plymouth Argyle, but recorded their first League Two victory at the weekend as they won 2-1 at Oldham Athletic.

Middlesbrough (possible, 4-1-4-1): Pears; Dijksteel, Wood, Friend, Bola; Saville; Johnson, Browne, Tavernier, Wearne; Gestede.