JONATHAN WOODGATE has described how Middlesbrough’s preparations for this Saturday’s trip to Queens Park Rangers have been rocked by an injury crisis.

A relatively small squad has now been rocked further and Boro are likely to have nine first team players missing when they head to Loftus Road.

As a consequence, Boro have recalled striker Tyrone O'Neill from his loan with Darlington, where he had been an integral part of their team this season.

His loan at the National League North club was meant to expire in early January, but Boro have activated a release clause - three days before Darlington's biggest game of the season.

Boro's timing could not be worse for Quakers. They are playing at Walsall in the first round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2010 and will take up to a 1,000 fans who have been eagerly awaiting the tie.

Prize money for the winners is £36,000, but Darlington will now be without their seven-goal striker who scored twice in the last round at Tamworth.

O'Neill, 20, is expected to be in Boro squad at QPR, but skipper George Friend has returned to training this week after his lay-off he will still not be rushed back.

As well as Friend, there will also be no sign of Rudy Gestede, George Saville (suspended), Darren Randolph, Ashley Fletcher, Marcus Browne or Ryan Shotton in that game. On top of those, goalkeeper Aynsley Pears has suffered a suspected broken finger and Ben Liddle is ill.

Woodgate, who could start with Tomas Mejias in goal for the first time, said: “It is not ideal because we have those players injured. It’s not enjoyable because of where we are in the league but we have to improve.”

Middlesbrough are winless in eight and without a goal in five so the increased list of absentees is not ideal as Woodgate looks to lift his team out of the Championship’s relegation zone.

“There are different types of pressure. I put pressure on myself from day one,” said Woodgate. “It comes in any walk of life. You are in this job for a reason, you are under pressure constantly. It is a pressure environment. I want to be it under pressure.

“In this point of time you go through sticky patches, I don’t mind that, it will stand me in good stead in the future. You have to keep on going and work hard. You need to keep the will to improve and get back.”