JONATHAN WOODGATE is pinning his hopes on the goals starting to flow from somewhere, anywhere, to strengthen his chances of boosting Middlesbrough’s struggling squad when the January transfer window opens.

While ruling out a dip into the free agent market in the remaining six weeks of this year, the Boro head coach is heading into this Saturday’s trip to ninth-placed Queens Park Rangers in the midst of an injury crisis.

With nine first team members set to miss the game at Loftus Road, Middlesbrough have had to recall 20-year-old striker Tyrone O’Neill from a loan spell at Darlington as they look to improve on the worst scoring record in the Championship.

It is now four matches since Middlesbrough found the net and eight games since they last won, so optimism among the supporters is draining away while Woodgate is trying to remain positive that things will turn around.

The Teessiders still have ten matches to play before January 1 and given the more frugal financial predicament the club finds itself in these days, it is unclear how much tinkering will be done in the transfer window.

Either way, whatever is done, Woodgate knows the position occupied by Middlesbrough come January will have a huge bearing on the recruitment process – and the hope is that they will have climbed out of the bottom three.

“The next game is all I can think about but every single game is huge now, and anything can happen by January,” said Woodgate. “Daniel Ayala could score three goals, Britt Assombalonga could hit five, and then things change.

“You never know what is going to happen in football, we could win five on the spin. You never know. January is always a notorious window anyway, no matter what position you are in, but it is harder to get the players you want if you are in a poor position.”

O’Neill’s return to Rockliffe Park highlights just how short in numbers Middlesbrough are, particularly in the final third. Woodgate had already been short of options but injuries to Ashley Fletcher and Rudy Gestede have left him with just the inexperienced Stephen Walker and now O’Neill playing back-up to Assombalonga.

Woodgate, who ruled out any chance of assistant manager Robbie Keane coming out of retirement to play in attack, said: “I’ll take you back to a time when I was at Leeds as a young 19-year old … “I was in the team with Lucas Radebe, playing at the back with him. Then Michael Duberry comes in to try and take your place, then Dominic Matteo comes in to try to take your place and then Rio Ferdinand comes in.

Woodgate added: “It’s competition for places and that’s what I want in my team. I want players to have competition, for the forwards, the midfielders, the defenders all to have people pushing them for their places.

 “If you have anything about yourself and you see someone walking in the door ready to take your shirt then you roll your sleeves up and say ‘you’re not having this place’.  “The financial reality was seen in pre-season really and up to the start of the season. We’ve gone from loaning players from Premier League clubs on a lot of money to signing players from League One. So the reality was already there in that sense. But you have to get on with it.

“We definitely need something, extra bodies and extra players, that’s without a shadow of a doubt. We need that and hopefully we will get that.”

While there are regular talks aimed at who could be targeted in January, Middlesbrough are also faced with a situation where they have seven players out of contract. Adam Clayton is one of those despite a belief when he signed a contract extension in 2017 that it would expire in 2021.

Key defender Daniel Ayala is another of those and this week he suggested he would like to stay at the Riverside but accepts cost-cutting and more stringent times might mean the club has different ideas.

“It’s good to hear that, of course it is,” said Woodgate. “Dani is a good lad, he’s a 100 per center. He gives you that on the training pitch, he gives you it in games, he’s a good player and you want your good players to stay.”

Clayton has found himself out of the Middlesbrough team of late but injuries might dictate that he is given a fresh chance at Derby this weekend.

Woodgate said: “His attitude has been very good, I can’t fault his attitude, it’s not nice to be left out of the team but when you’re a senior pro you have to show that determination. You have to show to the younger players in the squad this is how we train and act professional and show them what it’s like. He has done that.”