JONATHAN WOODGATE admits it is not ideal to have seven senior players approaching the end of their contract next summer, but the Middlesbrough head coach is confident any speculation ahead of the January transfer window will not adversely affect performances.

Ryan Shotton, George Friend, Daniel Ayala, Jonny Howson, Adam Clayton, Marvin Johnson and Rudy Gestede are all in the final year of their current deal, and are therefore due to become free agents next June.

They are already attracting interest from other clubs in the Championship, with Leeds United pondering a move for Ayala and Stoke City having been in contact about Friend, and while Boro officials are understood to have raised the possibility of agreeing new deals, it is not thought that any extended agreements are close to being signed.

That raises the possibility of players becoming unsettled in the next couple of months, or being reluctant to risk worsening any long-standing injury issues as that might make it more difficult to move elsewhere next summer, and Woodgate accepts the current situation could present challenges.

However, with the seven affected players boasting an extensive amount of experience, he does not foresee any major problems that might otherwise hamper his attempts to haul his side out of the Championship’s bottom three.

“It can be unsettling for the players, not knowing where their future is, but their job is to play for the club they’re at now, it’s as simple as that,” said Woodgate, who will spend the next 48 hours finalising his plans for Sunday’s home game with Hull City. “They can’t look to the future because you never know what’s going to happen in football.

“Your job is to focus on the here and now, and what you don’t want to do is burn your bridges. You’ve got to keep on being professional and working as hard as you can, and doing the right things. If you’re professional about what you have to do, questions about what might happen in the future shouldn’t matter.

“I’ve got strong characters in that dressing room, and if you look at the seven lads who are out (of contract), they’re pretty much all senior players. They know the craic, they know what it is.”

The responsibility for discussing and finalising new deals ultimately lies with chief executive Neil Bausor, who takes his instructions from chairman Steve Gibson. The pair will be mindful of the need to stick to their budgetary projections, with the Football League’s Financial Fair Play regulations setting strict limits on expenditure, but will also be keen to avoid an exodus of senior players at the end of the season.

While it is unlikely that Gestede will be offered a new deal given his ongoing injury problems, the six other players nearing the end of their contracts have all been important members of the first-team squad for much of the season.

Woodgate will have to rely on most of them in the remainder of the campaign, and will therefore insist on playing a major role in any decisions over their long-term position.

“I’ll have a say on who stays,” he said. “With the seven lads being out of contract, I’ll have a say over who stays out of them. My head’s on the chopping block, and there are some really good players in that list of seven, some really good players.

“Is there any chance of it being resolved quickly? You’re asking the wrong man. If we have news of something, we’ll tell you. I’m sure Neil and the chairman are speaking with representatives of players, I’m sure that’s happening. But when we’ve got some news, I’ll let you know.”

In the short term, Woodgate’s focus is Sunday’s game against a Hull side that have only suffered one away defeat since the opening weekend of the season.

Darren Randolph, Paddy McNair and Marcus Tavernier will feature in Sunday’s squad after returning from international duty without any problems, although George Saville remains suspended following his dismissal at Derby County.

Ryan Shotton misses out as he continues to nurse an injured ankle and while Marcus Browne could be available for the game at Leeds United in eight days’ time, he will miss this week’s home games with Hull and Barnsley.

“The lads who were away have all come back fit and well,” said Woodgate. “Darren is okay. In terms of players missing, Shotton is still injured, Rudy (Gestede) is injured and Marcus Browne is injured too. But It looks a lot better than it did.

“Browney might be back next, Shotts we’re not sure, Rudy maybe after Leeds. But we have to be patient with him.”

Boro host a Hull side sitting ten places above them in the table, and that Woodgate feels will offer a considerable attacking threat thanks to the presence of the in-form Jarrod Bowen and the experienced Kamil Grosicki.

“They’re a very good team on the counter-attack,” said the Boro boss. “They’ve got good players with Bowen and Grosicki, who I’ve liked for a number of years.

“They’ve only been beaten twice on the road this season, and have beaten Fulham and Nottingham Forest away from home. They’re a good side, especially on the road, and we have to be on our guard.”