JONATHAN WOODGATE thinks having to cut short Tyrone O’Neill’s loan at North-East neighbours Darlington is a sign of where Middlesbrough are at this season.

The Quakers have been left frustrated having lost the seven-goal striker ahead of this Saturday’s potentially money-spinning FA Cup first round tie with Walsall.

O’Neill was due to be at Blackwell Meadows until early January and he had been earmarked to lead the line this weekend in the hope of helping Darlington collect £36,000 by reaching the next round.

Such are the problems Woodgate is encountering at nearby Rockliffe Park, Middlesbrough’s increasing injury-list has meant the Championship club have had to knock on the National League North outfit’s door to ask for him back.

Middlesbrough look set to head to Queens Park Rangers on Saturday without NINE players, and that list of absentees will include strikers Ashley Fletcher and Rudy Gestede.

Britt Assombalonga, lacking confidence in front of goal, has no competition for his place except for teenage front-man Stephen Walker, which is why O’Neill has been asked to come back from Darlington early.

“I will have to wait and see,” said head coach Woodgate. “My options are Britt, Stephen Walker … that’s it. I can bring people back from loan, like Tyrone O’Neil who is coming back from Darlington.

“Tyrone has played for them in the National League and scored a few goals. It’s huge for us to have to do that, a big thing. That’s where we are. It’s an opportunity.”

O’Neill has been playing in the middle of a front three deployed by Darlington, whose manager Alun Armstrong has wished the Grangetown-raised forward the best of luck after his recall.

Woodgate was a teenager when he was given a chance to shine at Leeds United as a young defender and he never looked back after that, establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the country.

Woodgate has already given Hayden Coulson his chance this season and the left-back will be in the side at Loftus Road on Saturday when Middlesbrough may have to turn to other youngsters too. Ben Liddle has been on the bench of late but he is one of the lengthy list of players going to miss out because of illness.

“Ben has been on the bench the last four games and I wouldn’t have thought twice about putting him into the team,” said Woodgate. “I wouldn’t have a problem with doing that. He is waiting for an opportunity.  “I don’t want to put players in and scar them. You have to be sure, precise in your mind and we will find out soon who I think are ready.”

Promising goalkeeper Aynsley Pears is also a huge doubt. He is having to undergo x-rays on his finger and with Darren Randolph already ruled out Tomas Mejias could be set for his second debut for the club after re-signing in the summer.

Middlesbrough are also without captain George Friend, the suspended George Saville, Marcus Browne and Ryan Shotton in that game, so Middlesbrough are down to the bare bones when they take on a QPR side sitting two points off a play-off spot.

Browne suffered his injury on Under-23s duty this week when Coulson got more minutes under his belt and Woodgate admits the extensive list of absentees is symptomatic of Middlesbrough’s current woe.

“I watched the 23s and when Browne went down I had my head in my hands,” said Woodgate. “I need players to be fit when they do play so the best way to get minutes into them is to play for the 23s, it was Man United at home as well so a good game to play in.

“I have started to look at the team, what I can play, of course I have. We have some good players available still.  "Sometimes, you never know with injuries, and you can go somewhere and the home team might not fancy it, you never know. The bench has been young so we will have to play some young players that’s for sure.

“It’s a long list. That is quite frustrating but you can’t change it, that’s what has happened and we have to get on with it. It’s a good opportunity for the people who come in.

“Injuries and suspensions are part and parcel of a football club, you’re not always going to have a clean bill of health and at the minute we haven’t got one of them.

“Sometimes there are times when your backs are against the wall and things are going against you, that’s when you might get a little bit of fortune.”

Middlesbrough need a slice of good luck and they need points even more having dropped into the relegation zone after failing to win any of their last eight matches; not even scoring in their last five.

There are many questions being asked about Middlesbrough’s failings so far this season but Woodgate is having to stay optimistic – and has defended decisions to let some players leave like defender Aden Flint.

“It was not all about us just letting him go,” said Woodgate. “There was another side to that. We have lost a lot of layers since last season, like Downing, Besic, Hugill, Mikel … they have gone. A lot have. It’s not always the club’s decision to do that though.

 “I know there will be a lot of negativity around but there was before I got the job anyway. It doesn’t bother me. I love positivity, I would love everyone to be like that, positive. I care about the football club, I take everything on board. You can’t expect positivity when you are where we are. You have to keep on going.”

Depleted Middlesbrough head to QPR knowing three points may not even be enough to lift them out of the bottom three.