MIDDLESBROUGH face a contract conundrum before the end of the year with six of their more experienced squad members set to become free agents next summer.

Boro’s lowly position in the Championship coupled with a drive to keep the club’s finances in line with Financial Fair Play rules means they are running the risk of letting the players deals run down.

Key players Jonny Howson, Daniel Ayala, Ryan Shotton and George Friend are among those whose contracts will expire on June 30, as well as Rudy Gestede and Marvin Johnson’s.

Gestede’s future has looked like being away from the Riverside Stadium for more than a year, so it would take a major turnaround for him to stay beyond this campaign. He is currently trying to recover from a muscle injury.

Johnson has enjoyed a fresh chance under head coach Jonathan Woodgate and has looked one of Middlesbrough’s better wingers since the start of the season, despite losing his place for the last outing at Birmingham City when they suffered defeat.

The 28-year-old will be given more chances this season to prove his worth after a couple of loan spells away from Teesside.

It is the other quartet that is most interesting given there is likely to be plenty of interest in Howson, Ayala, Shotton and Friend unless Middlesbrough can get them tied down to new deals.

The challenge Middlebsrough face will be whether they can keep giving them what their current deals dictate, given only Ayala is under the age of 30 in that group.

The Spaniard was regularly labelled by Tony Pulis as a defender who should be playing in the Premier League and Middlesbrough are well aware of his ability.

Ayala has struggled with injuries but he is back in the team now and his partnership with Dael Fry at the heart of the defence is likely to have a huge bearing on how Middlesbrough perform for the rest of the season.

As things stand Middlesbrough are only two points above the Championship’s relegation zone and have only won two of their opening 11 matches under Woodgate.

The young head coach is focusd on delivering a better style of play and improved results as he looks to turn things around at the Riverside Stadium.

But the challenge is tough given he has inherited a squad which only had a few new faces added to it over the summer, with Marcus Browne, Marc Bola and Anfernee Djiksteel all taking time to adapt to the higher level.

Middlesbrough return to action after the international break at home to leaders West Bromwich Albion this Saturday before then heading to Huddersfield on the Wednesday after.