MIDDLESBROUGH are hoping to kick off their January transfer business with a loan deal for highly-rated Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts.

Roberts has spent the first half of the season on loan at Norwich City, but Manchester City bosses want to terminate his agreement with the Canaries as he has only played a grand total of 14 minutes of Premier League football since leaving the Etihad in the summer.

The City hierarchy are keen to ensure the 22-year-old is much more heavily involved in the second half of the campaign, and have spoken to a number of Championship clubs about a possible deal.

Middlesbrough have expressed a firm interest, and are increasingly hopeful of winning the battle to land Roberts, who joined Manchester City from Fulham in a £12m deal in 2015.

The youngster has made just one league appearance for Pep Guardiola’s side, but has established a growing reputation thanks to three loan spells at Celtic and a further temporary stint at Spanish side Girona.

An England Under-20 international, who can play as an out-and-out winger or a wide forward, Roberts would be a welcome addition to Boro’s attacking ranks.

Jonathan Woodgate is determined to add to his wide options this month, with Rangers’ Jordan Jones another target. Jones began his career with Middlesbrough, but left Teesside in 2016 having made just one senior appearance.

January could be a busy month for Boro, but Daniel Ayala has ruled out leaving the club next month even though his long-term future remains uncertain with his contract due to expire at the end of the season.

Leeds United have expressed an interest in securing his services, while Stoke City have also been linked with a possible move, with next month representing Boro’s final opportunity to prevent the Spaniard reaching the end of his contract in June.

Ayala is yet to enter into detailed talks over a new deal, but ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Preston, the defender has insisted he has no intention of leaving Teesside this month.

“Of course I see all the media speculation,” said Ayala, who became Aitor Karanka’s first signing when he joined Boro on a permanent basis from Norwich City in January 2014. “My friends send me all the stories to read and that is normal.

“But really I have to tell you that I am only concentrating on Middlesbrough, and I’m not thinking about leaving in January or anything like that.

“Sometimes, in football, things happen that are beyond your control, but unless something really big happens – and I don’t think it will – I will definitely be at Middlesbrough until the end of the season.

“I have been here seven years and I’ve said before, I love this club. I don’t really think about going elsewhere. I just want to stay here and finish this season as well as I can, and then let’s see what happens.”

Ayala is one of seven senior players due to reach the end of their contract in June, and with the likes of George Friend, Jonny Howson and Adam Clayton also due to become free agents, some big decisions are pending in the summer.

In an ideal world, Jonathan Woodgate would like to keep his most experienced names, with Ayala, Friend, Howson and Clayton all having been extremely influential figures in a dressing room packed with youngsters.

However, the quartet are all amongst Boro’s highest-paid players, and the need to adhere to the Football League’s Financial Fair Play regulations means the club will not be able to offer the kind of packages that were commonplace for the majority of the last decade.

It is conceivable that Ayala could be offered a new contract on reduced terms, but it is far from guaranteed that he would sign it, especially if he was to be offered alternative options elsewhere.

The fact that talks have not progressed beyond a formative stage suggests a desire on both sides to shelve a final decision until the summer, with Ayala confirming his representatives do not expect significant movement this month.

“Are their talks ongoing? Not at the moment,” he said. “I’m not really concentrating on my contract right now. The most important thing is the club concentrates on escaping the relegation battle.

“We need to focus on picking up points and we can soon be in mid-table. Everything else can wait until the end of the season.”

Boro get their next opportunity to climb the Championship table tomorrow, with their trip to Deepdale following hot on the heels of Sunday’s visit to West Bromwich Albion, which resulted in easily their best away display of the season.

Ashley Fletcher’s sensational stoppage-time strike capped an excellent team performance, so while Woodgate will be conscious of the need to avoid asking too much of his players when he names his starting line-up tomorrow, he will be reluctant to make wholesale changes given the confidence coursing through his squad.

“We are nine points clear of the relegation zone now, and we’ve moved up quite a bit over the last few weeks,” said Fletcher, who is set to continue up front today in the anticipated absence of Britt Assombalonga. “That’s where we should be. We shouldn’t be anywhere near the bottom three.

“We have always thought we were a better team than results and the table had suggested. But in football, if you don’t win games and don’t pick up points then ultimately you’ll be down there, and we were.

“But we are starting to get our rewards now. Boro are back – we are back. We are playing some fantastic football and digging out results when we need to, and I think we can get better still.”

Middlesbrough (probable, 4-2-3-1): Pears; Howson, Ayala, Fry, Coulson; Clayton, Wing; Spence, McNair, Tavernier; Fletcher.