RUDY GESTEDE could find himself thrust straight into Middlesbrough’s starting line-up at Nottingham Forest tomorrow, with Britt Assombalonga facing a lengthy absence after injuring his ankle in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Charlton Athletic.

Gestede’s only league start of the last 18 months came in a 1-1 draw at Preston in November 2018, and aside from an outing in the Carabao Cup defeat to Crewe Alexandra, his involvement in the current campaign has been restricted to four brief substitute appearances.

The most recent of those came in the defeat at Birmingham at the start of October, but having returned to training last week after his latest injury absence, he could find himself promoted to the starting side at the City Ground.

Stephen Walker replaced Assombalonga from the substitutes’ bench against Charlton, but the 19-year-old lacks experience at senior level. Given the likelihood that Aynsley Pears, Djed Spence and Hayden Coulson will have to start against Forest, Woodgate could well opt for Gestede’s senior knowhow ahead of Walker’s promise.

Assombalonga looks certain to miss out against his former employers, and Boro’s leading scorer could be facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines after he was forced to leave the Riverside Stadium on crutches on Saturday night.

He went down in obvious pain in the second half of his side’s 1-0 win, after he was caught from behind by a poor challenge from Darren Pratley. He hobbled to the sidelines, but was unable to continue despite the attentions of Boro’s medical staff.

The full extent of the injury is still being assessed, but he could miss the whole of the packed December programme if his scan results are not good.

“He’s on crutches so when it rains, it pours,” said Woodgate. “It’s thunder and lightning, it’s everything. I think that’s a new injury, which is not good.

“I’m not sure how long Britt will be out for. That will be another blow, but it happens and it’s another opportunity for someone else to come into the team.”

Assombalonga’s absence would be a major setback, although Woodgate did not want to be too critical of the challenge that left him prone on the floor.

“I didn’t think it was the best challenge in the world,” said the Boro boss. “But Darren apologised to me after the game. Darren Pratley is not that kind of player, he’s not malicious in any way, but okay he’s caught him.”

George Saville’s early strike settled things at the weekend, with the win lifting Boro to 19th position in the table. “It was a really pleasing win, and I thought we thoroughly deserved it,” said Woodgate.