JONATHAN WOODGATE might be searching for a new centre-back before the transfer deadline, but he has acknowledged how one of his own men is giving other defenders plenty of headaches.

Ashley Fletcher found the net for the ninth time in the Championship in the draw with Birmingham ten days ago, but his seven goals in the league still leaves him sitting just shy of the division’s top 20 scorers.

But the progress the 24-year-old has made over the last 12 months has been impressive, establishing himself as Middlesbrough’s main man after a period of real struggle after moving to the Riverside during Garry Monk’s first summer in charge.

Woodgate has been notably impressed. He said: “It’s difficult to (become in the top five or six strikers in the Championship), he’s done really well, he’s done fantastic.

“He can play a number of positions: nine, ten, off the left. His understanding of the game is a lot better now. He’s become a lot stronger, more robust with the centre-halves. That’s only by doing little sessions on the training pitch. He’s a good lad, wants to get better and wants to do the best for the team.”

Woodgate has given plenty of players a chance this season, when in many cases he has had to because of injuries. The vast majority of those he has have stepped up to the plate, and that has satisfied the boss.

“Ashley’s stepped up to the mark. People have got to stand up, Ashley has done that,” said Woodgate, whose side face Blackburn at the Riverside this Saturday.

“After ten or 11 games he wasn’t scoring many but remained confident, I spoke to him numerous times and said, ‘stay confident, you’ll score goals’.”

Woodgate wants to bring in reinforcements at the back, unless other players are sold – which seems unlikely – before the window closes. He is looking to bring in Leicester City defender Filip Benkovic, but Celtic, Derby and Bristol City are keen too.